Skip to Navigation | Skip to Content

Seminar Series: Christian Perspectives in Science (2000-2001)


February 23, 2001

"Is Science Intrinsically Atheistic? What is 'Christian' Scholarship in the Natural Sciences?"

Loren Haarsma, Physics & Astronomy Department, Calvin College
Our religious worldview affects how we search for truth, including what sorts of evidence and what sorts of answers we are willing to accept as "true." How is it, then, that natural scientists from many different religious worldviews usually reach consensus on scientific matters? Some people (including some Christians) claim that scientists reach consensus because science is "methodologically" atheistic; that is, scientists act "as if God doesn't exist" while they are doing science. Is that a fair description of how natural science usually works? If so, is there such a thing as "Christian" scholarship in science? If that is not a fair description of how science reaches consensus, what is a better description?

March 7, 2001

"Robert Boyle and Methodological Naturalism: God, laws, and air bubbles."
Stephen Wykstra, Philosophy Department, Calvin College
Robert Boyle, of "Boyle's Law" fame, was perhaps the most influential scientist in the generation preceding Isaac Newton. His voluminous and widely-read books were divided between experimental work (especially on the air pump and in chemistry), work on the theoretical foundations and guiding "meta-scientific" framework for science, and theological and religious works. Boyle urged that experimental science be conducted within the framework of the "Corpuscular" or "Mechanical Philosophy," defending this framework as a devout Christian theist, but urging that it NOT be limited in the ways that other mechanists wanted to limit it. I will give an account of some strands in Boyle's thought, raise some questions, and invite discussion on his relevance for the practice of science today.

April 6, 2001

"On the Mountain: Charles A. Coulson on Science and Religion"
Arie Leegwater, Chemistry & Biochemistry Department, Calvin College
Charles A. Coulson (1910-1974) was an influential English-Methodist quantum chemist and author of a number of books on science and religion. [You could say he was the Polkinghorne of the 1950s and 1960s in England.] Coulson's life, I will argue, displays a unity of action, and that unity is displayed in a variety of ways: (1) Coulson's style of attacking scientific problems in quantum chemistry, his view of the role of models and imagination in scientific work, and his emphasis on the wholeness or unity of personal experience shaped his views of the science/religion connection. (2) Coulson's emphasis on a personal religious experience, the role of a group's fellowship in confirming that experience, and a call to holiness affected his approach to his scientific co-workers, his research group and their activities, and his general promotion of science to a wider public.

April 20, 2001

"Some Considerations for Intelligent Design from Physics and Astrophysics"

Steve Steenwyk, Physics & Astronomy Department, Calvin College
While much of the intelligent design (I.D.) discussion centers on issues involving biological function and structure and the probability of their biochemical evolution, physics, astrophysics and cosmology also may contribute some important constraints to be considered by I.D. proponents. A brief summary of I.D. is given, highlighting that much of the argument centers on probabilities that are highly uncertain. Recent and well established developments in astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology, string theory, black hole entropy and information, quantum mechanics, chaos theory, and other fields must influence considerations involving the probability that life may evolve and the generation and transmission of "information"-a key word in I.D. theory. While all of these issues cannot be addressed here in detail, some recent developments in astrophysics and cosmology involving the physical extent of the universe are addressed in some detail along with some brief comments involving some of the other areas mentioned. Some implications for estimation of probabilities will be discussed.

May 4, 2001

"The Gaia Hypothesis and the Possibility for a Christian Earth Teleology"
Ralph Stearley, Geology, Geography and Environmental Studies Department, Calvin College
Recently, attention has been renewed among scientists, philosophers and theologians to the concept of teleological design or intelligent design in the natural world. Any demonstration of design in an individual, whether a living organism, a planet, or a galaxy, must take into account the historical development of that individual. During its 4.5 Gyr history, Earth has developed from a very hot near- molten entity with a dense atmosphere of CO2 and steam, lacking a shield against lethal UV radiation, into a comfortable home for many different types of life. The Earth has become remarkably robust in terms of resistance to perturbations which might threaten life. One non-Christian teleological interpretation of this is the "Gaia hypothesis", which postulates that Earth behaves as a large self- regulating superorganism. How should Christians respond to the Gaia hypothesis? Is a distinctive Christian teleological theory of Earth history possible?