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Seminar Series: Christian Perspectives in Science (2001-2002)


September 7, 2001

"The New Natural World Core: It's here, and now you've got to assess it."

Organizer: Loren Haarsma, Physics & Astronomy Department, Calvin College
A brainstorming session on how to assess Natural World core courses. If you teach a science core class, or expect to some day, that class WILL be evaluated. Would you like a say in how the assessment is done? Even if you don't plan to teach a core course, your students will be taking them. Help us decide how to assess whether our classes are meeting our goals. Students welcome!

October 12, 2001

"Human Animals or Human Persons: How are bodies and persons related?"

Kevin Corcoran, Philosophy Department, Calvin College
According to classical dualism, human persons are fundamentally and essentially immaterial souls, albeit souls contingently and intimately connected to material bodies. According to "animalism," human persons are fundamentally and essentially biological organisms and, therefore, only contingently persons. These two broad views have seemed exhaustive. I want to suggest an alternative. I propose a "constitution view" of human persons according to which we are wholly physical things, though not identical with the physical things that are our bodies.

October 26, 2001

"Teleology and the Laws of Physics"

David Van Baak, Physics & Astronomy Department, Calvin College, Calvin Lecturer, 2001-2002
Since the time of Newton it has been generally accepted that the laws of nature depict the natural world as a mechanism. This viewpoint has persisted in spite of discoveries that parts of the natural world do not have any of the characteristics of Newtonian clockwork; it has even persisted despite the discovery, more than two centuries ago, that there are alternative ways of expressing the laws of physics. These "variational" expressions of the laws are wholly consistent with Newtonian forms in their observable implications, but they are not at all mechanistic in their character. Whereas the picture of the world painted by Newtonian mechanics is that of a mindless and deterministic machine, the variational expression of the same physics is eerily redolent of purpose or intention. This lecture will introduce anyone interested in science to the character of natural law, some of the alternative variational expressions of the laws of physics, and the implications for science, and the philosophy of science, of these "physically equivalent but psychologically inequivalent" ways of expressing the laws of nature.

November 9, 2001

"The Quest for a Quantitative Social Science: A Problem for Christians?"
James Bradley, Mathematics Department, Calvin College
Since the mid-seventeenth century, many thinkers have sought to develop a science of human behavior analogous to physics -- that is, one based on natural laws that have empirical bases and are formulated mathematically. These thinkers hoped that such a science could serve as a rational basis for ordering human societies. This talk will first explore why such a quest appears problematic for Christians. It will then examine how efforts to quantify human behavior have made major positive contributions to human culture but have also generated significant social problems. It will conclude by suggesting some ways that the application of a Christian perspective could maintain the benefits of quantification while preventing some of the harms.

November 30, 2001

"Models of Spiritual Discipline in Addiction Recovery"
Glenn Weaver, Psychology Department, Calvin College
The Twelve Step model of spiritual discipline is the most widely recognized addiction recovery approach that emphasizes the importance of spiritual discipline. This presentation will describe two studies which identify an alternative model of spiritual discipline as effective in the efforts of nicotine-dependent smokers to quit smoking. Based on structured interviews with ex-smokers, the first study identified "calling-oriented spirituality" and "dependency- oriented spirituality" as related, yet distinct, practices which have been engaged in efforts to quit smoking. The second study recruited active smokers for a three-month effort to quit smoking. Participants agreed to random assignment to one of several disciplined practices throughout the three month effort: "calling-oriented" spiritual practices, "dependency-oriented" spiritual practices, or self-designed "motivational enhancement" practices. Results indicated that these practices had different effects on the way in which participants viewed their smoking during the three month effort to quit. Participants experienced the "calling-oriented" spiritual practice condition as the most appropriate approach and made the greatest progress in reducing their self-monitored cigarette and nicotine consumption. The presentation will consider some implications for addiction theory and future addiction research.

February 8, 2002

"Embryonic Stem Cells: Promises and Perils"

Hessel Bouma III, Biology Department, Calvin College
Embryonic stem cells are being widely touted by scientists, politicians and the media as potentially the long-awaited and ultimate cure for people with diabetes, Alzheimers, Parkinsons, organ failure, and spinal cord injuries. What are stem cells? Where can we get them? What do we know they can do as opposed to what we suspect they might be able to do? Should these potential cures be perceived as hype or genuine hope? What are the ethical and public policy issues raised by embryonic stem cells and what alternatives might there be? This seminar will explore these questions towards an understanding how Christians might respond to the dilemmas posed by these issues.

February 22, 2002

"Sharing the Life and History of a Wetland Across the Generations"

Cheryl Hoogewind, Calvin Ecosystem Preserve Manager, Calvin College
What do senior citizens, elementary students, and a created urban wetland have in common? Young and old people can explore together the wetland's cultural and natural history. I have been involved in a grant-funded project to create a wetland education curriculum for a new retirement community as an outreach to area schoolchildren. The program focuses on a 7-acre wetland, created when the retirement community site was developed. The program is intentionally inter- generational and emphasizes the functional importance of created wetlands in watershed and wildlife management. The project has caught the attention of area educators and won an award from the Michigan Association of Homes and Services for the Aging. Attendees will participate in a simulation of the importance of wetlands to migrating birds.

March 22, 2002

"Transforming Care: Toward A Reformed Christian Perspective on Nursing"
Mary Molewyk Doornbos, Mary E. Flikkema & Barbara Timmerman, Nursing Department, Calvin College
How does a Reformed Christian worldview form our conceptualization of nursing practice? Does the current emphasis on evidence-based practice preclude the idea of nursing as a vocation as well as a profession? The tension between nursing as a science, based only in theoretical knowledge, and the spiritual nature of nursing as Christian service will be examined. A brief Abstract of a spiritual history in nursing will be discussed from the pre-Christian era through the present day. Practices and attitudes of caregivers throughout history have been informed by spiritual belief systems. What meaning does this historical perspective have for the contemporary practice of nursing? Five metaparadigm concepts of nursing will be examined and related to present day practice in the profession of nursing: caring, person, health, environment and nursing. The definition of those metaparadigm concepts influences the nurse's ethical stance and affects ethical decision making in today's complex health care system. Finally, a holistic perspective of nursing and the Christian mandate will be related to the principles of health promotion and health protection within the discipline of nursing.

April 5, 2002

"Cosmology and the Role of Presuppositions in Science"

David Van Baak, Physics & Astronomy Department, Calvin College, Calvin Lecturer 2001-2002
Of all the fields of human knowledge, mathematics and the natural science are those that are most often assumed to be universal, value-free, obligatory, and independent of pre-suppositions and prejudices. In these fields, if any, one may hope that all scholars will necessarily be constrained by reason and evidence to reach a consistent set of conclusions. While vast amounts of the content of the sciences do indeed reveal this kind of convergence, there are interesting areas in which consensus is not achieved, and may never be achieved. In this lecture, I will explore those places in the natural sciences where essential disagreements persist, and illustrate in the field of cosmology the reasons for the disagreements. In particular, I will describe the role of presuppositions, and extra-scientific assumptions, in motivating theories about the character and origin of the universe. This talk is intended for a general audience of persons interested in science.

April 12, 2002

"The Biotech Century: Brave New World, or Just a Better One?"

Jared Knoll, Biotechnology major, Calvin College
In his book "The Biotech Century: Harnessing the Gene and Remaking the World," Jeremy Rifkin argues that the applications of biotechnology are likely to make the world of our children and grandchildren fundamentally different from ours. With such chapter titles as "A Eugenic Civilization," "Patenting Life," and "Reinventing Nature," it is clear that Rifkin does not think this will be a change for the better. Through his books and lectures, Rifkin, along with numerous other anti-biotech groups, is attempting to persuade the general public to agree with him. In contrast to the warnings of Rifkin and others, however, stand biotechnology's potential benefits. If these benefits are possible, then if Rifkin is successful in convincing the public that biotech is to something be feared he will have persuaded them to oppose an increase in their quality of life. The argument for the use of biotechnology (and technology in general) can be framed in terms of a "presumptive case." Additionally, when the benefits of biotech are thought of as applicable not only to oneself but to all people, the argument for continuing its development takes on the spiritual dimension of service and love for one's neighbor. Lest Rifkin and other activist groups succeed in their goal of convincing the public that biotechnology is inherently wrong, those most knowledgeable about it need to be vocal in the general public debate. People with knowledge of biotechnology have a responsibility to let average Americans know that by continuing with biotechnology, we are not necessarily dooming our children to a "Brave New World."

April 19, 2002

"Where does mathematics come from? A Christian perspective."
James Turner, Mathematics Dept, Calvin College
In trying to understand where our ability to do mathematics comes from, a dilemma arises when coming to terms with both its subjective nature, in that it can be constructed and explored by individuals, and its "unreasonable effectiveness" in its applications. In attempting to address this paradox, philosophical positions, ranging from constructivism to Platonism, have all been declared to fall short of producing a resolution. In this talk, I will describe how the horns of this dilemma have hung up these various philosophical positions and indicate how the failure to provide such a resolution has been at root a result of a certain degree of commitment to naturalism. Finally, I will describe a rudimentary Christian perspective which has the potential of producing a resolution by going between the horns.