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Seminar Series: Christian Perspectives in Science (2015-2016)

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

Archives

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



Schedule for Spring 2016


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.

Abstract
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.

Abstract
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.
Co-sponsors
The BioLogos Foundation.
Recordings and related resources
See_the_video.


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.

Abstract
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.

Abstract
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
audio_recording.
Co-sponsors
Calvin College Pre-Health Professionals Club.



Schedule for Fall 2015

October 30, 2015, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110

"Justice for the Earth: A Way Forward"

Ken Piers, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, Calvin College.

Abstract
This seminar will present a brief review of where the earth currently stands in the progression of climate change. Second, we will review (again briefly) several statements that have been prepared by different religious communities about climate change and human response to the challenges climate change presents. Lastly we will present a proposal launched by the Citizen’s Climate Lobby, a non-partisan, grassroots national organization in which it may be possible for humans in this nation and across the world to find common ground.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording, power_point_slides, handout.

November 13, 2015, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110

"Does God Need Quantum Mechanics?"

Jeffrey Koperski, Professor of Philosophy, Saginaw Valley State University.

Abstract
Christians believe that God has ordained the laws of nature. At least since Leibniz, though, many theists have been uncomfortable with the view that God also occasionally breaks those laws in order to act within nature. Today, noninterventionists look for ways in which God might act without violating natural law. Most proposals involve quantum indeterminacy. In this talk, we will consider some of the philosophical and scientific arguments for noninterventionism to see whether God in some sense needs quantum mechanics to keep from violating the laws of nature.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording, power_point_slides.

November 20, 2015, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110

"The Primary Solution: Primary Care Accomplishing Justice in the U.S. Health Care System"

Marika Jeltema, Calvin College student.

Abstract
The United States health care needs reform, costs are high and effectiveness is questionable. Many procedures amount to treating symptoms as opposed to preventing core problems. The reform necessary to create an effective health care system in the U.S. includes addressing three threats to primary care physicians: the state of medical education, technology encroachment, and the mechanisms by which primary care providers are incentivized and physicians reimbursed. As a society, increased use of primary care as an avenue to improved health is an ethically preferable position, implicating justice, physician’s fidelity, and non-maleficence. Medical education should place greater focus on the practice of preventative medicine, leading to a greater number of medical students who elect to pursue primary care, commensurate with a change from procedure based billing which favors specialties to a financial model that enables young physicians to repay tuition debt. Increasing the number of residencies available for new primary care physicians will require a shift both in government subsidies and cultural prioritization of primary care. Application of technologies such as electronic medical records, and patient use of diagnostic information via the internet detract from the limited time available for patient-doctor interaction and should be adopted with care. Primary care methods can be redesigned, valuing quality over quantity of visits, cultivating team practice. Sufficient and effective primary care is critical to the redesign of a sustainable health care system capable of improving individual and public health.
Recordings and related resources
Recording not available.

December 4, 2015, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110

"The Venema Revelation and Conditional Probabilities: Bayesian Updating, David Hilbert, Kolmogorov, & God"

Steve Wykstra, Philosophy Department, Calvin College
with student researchers Denise Dykstra and Paul Manata

Abstract
When they get new evidence, Christians, like everybody else, sometimes revise their beliefs. Sometimes they even revise their religious beliefs. Revising our religious beliefs can, of course, trouble and befuddle us. Can probability theory be of any help, shedding any light on when and why and how such revision should go? Philosophers here divide, but Wykstra will explain how he and many philosophers of religion have routinely used probability theory, especially “Bayes’ theorem,” to illuminate judgments how to belief-revision on getting new evidence. Wykstra will then go over some perplexing issues about “Bayesian updating” arising from a paper, co-authored with former Calvin student Tim Perrine, about how one how evidence should be handled within scientific and worldview “research programs.” The issues, as noted by UC Berkeley philosopher Lara Buchak, may connect to proposals in formal epistemology that in some situations, evidentially updating must rely on an “Infomin” rule that emerged in the landmark 1948 work by C.E. Shannon in information science and code theory. Professor Wykstra will introduce his two-student team, Denise Dykstra and Paul Manata, who have been working with him in this area. He will explain how something he learned four years ago from Professor Venema about David Hilbert and geometry has given a deeper perspective on Kolmogorov’s axiomatization of probability, and review some of the progress the team has made. Wykstra and team are eager for your thoughts on how probability theory might illuminate the process of extending, testing and revising core beliefs when deployed within research programs for interpreting and understanding the world we live in.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording_temporarily_unavailable; power_point_slides_temporarily_unavailable


Schedule for Spring 2015

February 6, 2015, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building basement room 010

"The Rise of Deluge Geology: Calvin Tossed by Waves"

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

Abstract
During the past century, a “warfare paradigm” for the relationship of science and faith has been aggressively promoted by some Christians and some prominent materialist scientists. Often, the geologic record including the record of the history of life has been a focal point for tragic-comedic pronouncements. It is generally recognized that a principal component of misinformation undergirding this warfare mentality was simplistic and/or malicious historiography accomplished during the late nineteenth century, regarding the historical relationship between science and Christianity. During the past generation, historians of science have debunked the warfare metaphor. Yet, since 1960, a large number of evangelical Christians have somehow succumbed to the parallel claims that mainstream geologists are untrustworthy and that Noah’s Flood is responsible for much if not most of the global stratigraphic record (“Deluge Geology”). Calvin College science faculty have grappled with the technical and cultural issues surrounding the history of Earth and life for over 70 years. This presentation will explore how our current cultural scene has emerged, with twin foci: a) the rise of modern Deluge Geology, and b) the effort that Calvin scientists, theologically sited within a Reformed sense of God’s rule over nature, have exerted to defuse the warfare metaphor.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording (recording stops after 67 minutes, missing final 25 minutes), handout, power_point_slides, full_audio_recording_(lower_quality).
Co-sponsors
Calvin College Geology, Geography, and Environmental Studies Department.

February 13, 2015, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building basement room 010

"Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!": Evolution's Big Three Challenges to Theism

Jeffrey Schloss, Professor of Biology at Westmont College; Director, Center for Faith, Ethics & Life Sciences; Senior Scholar at BioLogos.

Abstract
The "creation - evolution debate" is of course not a single controversy at all, but entails disagreements about numerous issues, including the adequacy of scientific evidence for key proposals of evolution like common descent, the teaching (if any) of scriptures on issues like earth's age and a primordial human pair, and - the focus of this talk - the general implications of evolution for biblical theism. Three issues have commanded particular attention from the time of Darwin until the present: the question of design and divine purpose in nature, the issue of human "animality" and its implications for moral responsibility, and the way in which evolution is seen to exacerbate the problem of natural evil. Although these issues are both complex and legitimately important, their assessment is often dominated by polarized pronouncements that the findings of science are both clear and utterly noxious in their implications for belief in a wise and moral Creator, or that they present no serious challenge. This talk will describe and assess new findings in evolutionary theory that make the first extreme unfounded, but do not fully justify the second. It will argue that, rightly understood, evolution can be seen as concordant with but not demonstrative of theism, and is beset by the ambiguity that has always attended Christian reflection on the natural world. Seeing concord does not just provoke, but requires theistic belief.
Co-sponsors
The BioLogos Foundation.

February 27, 2015, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110

"Light of the World: Uncovering the Unexpected Through Science and Scripture"

Kathryn Applegate, BioLogos Program Director.

Abstract
In John 8:12 and 9:5, Jesus calls himself the light of the world. Light and darkness–seeing and not seeing–are apt images for how we come to understand who Jesus is as well as for how we do science. In both cases, we need eyes to see something new, a way to look beyond the existing paradigm to a more coherent view of reality. This was true for first-century Jews awaiting a political savior in a Roman-occupied land; this is true for scientists today who study the workings of the world God has made. So often who God is and what he has done, whether in our lives, in Scripture, or in the created order itself, are not what we would have expected. We will consider several examples from both Scripture and science where the unexpected sheds new light on the character of God. Reflecting on the unexpected can be especially helpful for those who are new to thinking about how evolution could accord with the God of the Bible.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording, power_point_slides.

April 23 (Thursday), 2015, 3:30 p.m. in Commons Annex Lecture Hall

"Confronting our Brainhood and Substantive Alienation"

Carl Gillett, Professor of Philosophy, Northern Illinois University.

Abstract
Scientific, and wider, discussions now routinely feature the claim that neuroscientific advances make it plausible that we are brains that have what I term ‘rich’ psychological properties like remembering breakfast, fearing cancer etc. Call this the ‘Expansive Brain’ view. However, such discussions are rarely clear about the nature of this type of claim or offer detailed arguments in its support. In contrast, philosophical discussions of what we are feature precise frameworks and arguments. But virtually no philosophers accept any version of the Brain view, instead endorsing either psychological or Animalist views. Philosophical discussions cannot thus be accused of neuromania – far from it. Philosophical debates about what we are still largely use the method of cases and rarely use empirical evidence from the neurosciences or elsewhere. In this paper, I seek to bring these two debates together and I defend a number of inter-locking conclusions. First, I look at work in cognitive neuroscience and argue that the neurosciences are plausibly taken to posit rich psychological properties like episodic remembering. Second, building on this result, I show that cognitive neuroscience plausibly defends the existence of what I term ‘expansive brains,’ that is brains that instantiate rich psychology. Third, using recent philosophical work, I illustrate how neuroscientific evidence can be brought to bear on the issue of what we are, hence showing that we can finally avoid the method of cases and establishing you are plausibly an expansive brain. Lastly, I outline the wide range of recent scientific evidence about our neurocognitive natures that explains both why we are so resistant to the Expansive Brain view and why we are also so deeply inclined to the mistaken views that we are minds or animals.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording, power_point_slides, handout.
Co-sponsors
Calvin College Philosophy Department.

April 24, 2015, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building basement room 010

"Fundamentalism vs. Mutualism: Understanding our Ongoing Debates over Reduction and Emergence"

Carl Gillett, Professor of Philosophy, Northern Illinois University.

Abstract
I contend that our theoretical frameworks for debates over ‘reduction’ and ‘emergence’ are badly lagging, often even obscuring, the exciting, ongoing debates in the sciences. To support this point, I outline what I take to be more adequate frameworks that reconstruct the debates at the ‘local’ level of concrete scientific cases. I show how the arguments and position of scientific reductionists flow from compositional explanations in the sciences and lead them to what I term ‘Fundamentalism’ which only accepts components as determinative, but still accepts a macro-world and higher sciences to study it. Reconstructing the claims of self-identified scientific emergentists, I outline what I term ‘Mutualism’ built around mutually determinative parts and wholes, highlight why it shows the most common argument for scientific reductionism is invalid, and how it frames one of the live views in the sciences. I then provide a valid argument for scientific reductionism in cases of compositional explanation and highlight its high evidential demands. I consequently detail two live views for scientific reductionists in what I term ‘Simple’ and ‘Conditioned Fundamentalism’. Most importantly, I highlight the issues between the live Mutualist and Fundamentalist views in concrete ‘local’ cases, illustrate why these disputes are empirically resolvable, and outline why, as yet, none of these competing views about ‘reduction’ and ‘emergence’ has (as yet) been established in a concrete scientific case.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording, power_point_slides.
Co-sponsors
Calvin College Philosophy Department.

May 8, 2015, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110

"Stress in Early Childhood: impact on the brain and implications for interventions"

Emily Helder, Psychology Department, Calvin College.

Abstract
Professor Helder will examine the impact of early stressful experiences such as abuse/neglect, orphanage stays, and poverty on neuroanatomical development. The influences of such stress on cognition, behavior, and emotions will be discussed. Additionally, the talk will also address intervention and educational approaches with these children.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording, power_point_slides.
Co-sponsors
Psychology_Department; Education_Program; Science_Education_Group; Neuroscience_and_Education_Group.