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Seminar Series: Christian Perspectives in Science (2002-2003)


September 27, 2002

"The Skies Proclaim the Work of His Hands: What modern astronomy is telling us about the attributes of God."

Deborah Haarsma, Physics & Astronomy Dept, Calvin College
Astronomical discoveries in recent decades have greatly expanded our understanding of planets, stars, galaxies, and the universe. For people of all worldviews, these discoveries evoke amazement and wonder. How can scientists of different worldviews share the same scientific methods and results, and yet disagree about God's existence and role in the universe? For Christians, who understand science as the study of God's creation, these discoveries illustrate God's beauty, power, faithfulness, creativity, immensity, and love. This talk will be presented to Christian school teachers on October 11, 2002, at the NWCSI-CTABC Convention (Northwest Christian Schools International and Christian Teachers Association of British Columbia).

October 11, 2002

"Asa Gray: Darwin's Defender or Darwin's Fool?"
Stephen Matheson, Biology Department, Calvin College
Asa Gray (1810-1888) was already considered the finest American botanist (and perhaps biologist) of his time when, in 1860, he paused from his voluminous taxonomic work to launch a "defense" of Charles Darwin and his Origin of Species. A congregationalist Calvinist, Gray argued strenuously against various theological (and scientific) criticisms of Darwin and his theory. In addition, throughout the rest of his life, he engaged Darwin in a personal discussion of the implications of common descent with regard to the concepts of design and purpose. Reflection on Gray's ideas, and on his approach to the doubts and fears of his friend and colleague, is challenging and instructive.

November 22, 2002

"Anomalous Suspension Revisited: Worldview Shaping, Realist Historiography of Science, and the Boyle-Huygens Debate"

Steve Wykstra, Philosophy Department, Calvin College
In the early 1660's, Christian Huygens visited London, read Boyle's newly-published "New Experiments touching the Spring of Air," and returned to Holland to build his own vacuum pump. He quickly 'discovered' a new phenomenon of "anomalous suspension." Basically, he purged water of air by keeping in an evacuated receiver several days; he then used the purged water to create a water-barometer; and he placed this under a bell jar which he evacuated. According to the reigning hypothesis, the water-level should drop (since it is air pressure that holds the water or mercury up in the inverted tube). Huygens found it didn't drop: it remained anomalously "suspended." Huygens's reports caused consternation back in London, where Hooke and other tried for a year to replicate his results. It was the "cold fusion" of the 1660's. When Huygens returned to London to help them, Hooke and his cohorts were finally able to duplicate the phenomenon. They never did figure it out, and in 1670's, Huygen's made it a linchpin of his aether-theoretic research programme. The controversy over anomalous suspension neatly illustrates the interplay between experiment, hypotheses, research programs, and (perhaps) religious worldviews. It is also at the core of a 1985 book by Simon Shapin and Steven Schaffer's: "Leviathan and the Air-pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life." This book is pivotal to the anti-realist sociological interpretations of science that rose to prominence in the 1980's. In my talk, I will give a fuller account of the episode, Shapin and Schaffer's use of it, and a progress report on my work so far working through the primary literature on anomalous suspension. If anyone would like homework, email me and I will ICM the relevant chapter of Shapin and Schaffer's book. I haven't tried to do the experiment yet, but by next Friday, who knows?

December 6, 2002

"Teaching Virtues: Using 4MAT Lesson Design to Integrate Knowledge, Skills & Virtues"
Karen J. Vander Laan, Nursing Department, Calvin College
This interactive presentation will discuss using a learning cycle to design instruction and assessment that helps students acquire knowledge, skills, and virtues. The 4MAT System® will be introduced with an emphasis on how content can be taught as a study of a virtue. Assessment strategies for all octants of the learning cycle will be discussed. Participants will experience a 4MAT learning cycle first-hand as we discuss the challenges of teaching and assessing virtues.

March 7, 2003

"Creation or Curse? Entropy, Earthquakes, Mosquitoes and Malaria"

Loren Haarsma, Physics & Astronomy Department, Calvin College
In Reformed theology, the effects of the Fall are pervasive, affecting all of creation. So it is tempting for us to blame everything which annoys or hurts us on the Fall. When we study creation scientifically, however, we find that many of the things which can annoy or hurt us -- from tiny viruses to the second law of thermodynamics -- play an important, natural, and perhaps even inevitable part in the functioning of God's complex and amazing creation. We shouldn't be hasty to blame something on the Fall which was part of God's good design. We'll explore this topic in a range of areas from the laws of physics to biology to human behavioral dispositions.

March 28, 2003

"What Can Mathematics Contribute to the Science-Religion Discussion?"
Douglas Kindschi, Dean of Science & Professor of Mathematics, Grand Valley State University
The Science-Religion literature has grown dramatically in the past few decades, producing hundreds of books and even more articles. Very little, however, has been said about Mathematics' contribution to this discussion. One significant exception is the book by Bradley and Howell, Mathematics in Postmodern Age: A Christian Perspective. While on a "mini-sabbatical" at Calvin College, I have been reading and working on this topic, and I would like to share some preliminary thoughts. In particular, I will present the quests in Mathematics for definition, truth, foundation and certainty, and how these issues might inform the science-religion discussion.

April 11, 2003

"Teaching Professional Ethics in Engineering and the Sciences"

Gayle E. Ermer, Engineering Department, Calvin College
Professional occupations in technology, mathematics, and the sciences provide opportunities for Christians to pursue their vocation, the calling to serve God and others by reforming his creation. As Christian educators, we are concerned with ensuring that our graduates have the skills and dispositions necessary to make ethical choices as they pursue the ideals of their disciplines. Secular professional societies and educators are becoming increasingly concerned with promoting ethical standards as well. What is meant by professional ethics? How are professional ethics and Christian faith related? How can these concepts be taught? Some suggestions for integrating the study of ethics into professional programs and courses will be presented, along with examples from the field of engineering.

April 25, 2003

"Deliverance from the Technological Worldview: Redirection in the Ethics of Technology"

Egbert Schuurman, Professor, Department of Christian Philosophy, Technological Universities of Delft and Eindhoven and the Agricultural University of Wageningen
The overwhelming uncritical attitude toward technology can have potentially disastrous effects. An "ethics of technology" is required. Such an ethics must concern itself with humanity's good and responsible conduct in and through technology. Generally speaking, since modern times there has been a mentality of technological control. All questions relating to spiritual reflection and religious problems are ruled out. Motives, values and norms are derived from a technological worldview. This "technological ethics" is the cause of many threats and problems. It is characterized by a cosmological deficit and an ethical deficit. It is only possible to overcome these deficits by a reorientation in culture and in ethics. The Enlightenment ought to be enlightened. The cosmology of reality as God's creation, and the commandments of love, give a possibility for the redirection of an ethics of technology. A responsible cultural and technological development summons a representation of culture that depicts earth as a garden tended by humans. Technology must be developed within the perspective of the earth as one large garden-city. In an ethics of responsibility, attention is given to the central motive of love, contrasted with the central motive of power of the technological worldview. For a justified, responsible technology, the ethical challenge is finding not only true motives, but also true environment values, technological values and social values. At the end of the lecture, attention is paid to the consequences for the practice of this ethical-philosophical view and to the differences from those views which are currently held.