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Seminar Series: Christian Perspectives in Science (2003-2004)

Schedule

September 26, 2003

"The End of Oil"

Kenneth Piers, Chemistry Department, Calvin College
Abstract
The economies of the US and the entire developed world depend heavily on the availability of the exceedingly convenient, useful, and relatively inexpensive resource we know simply as "oil." Since, as far as we know, oil is a resource that is nonrenewable within historic time scales, its supply is limited. Therefore, since demand for oil continues to increase, we can expect that at some time in the future, world oil production will reach a peak and then begin a decline. How long will it be before world oil production reaches its peak? Is there reason for concern? This seminar will explore some of the issues surrounding the debate about these questions.

October 10, 2003

"George McCready Price and the Foundation of Flood Geology"

Ralph Stearley, Geology, Geography and Environmental Studies Department, Calvin College
Abstract
George McCready Price is credited with launching the 20th-century "flood geology" movement. His long publishing career spanned over 50 years. From the start (Illogical Geology, 1906), his publications claimed that biostratigraphers were guilty of attempting to erect a "cosmogony" from limited observations combined with a priori assumptions. In Q.E.D., Or New Light on the Doctrine of Creation (1917) Price compared the activities of geologists to those of librarians, sorting the various strata according to a completely artificial system, likened to a card index. Price based this critique on faulty spatial reasoning. Price also reasoned that all fossil assemblages were preserved discrete contemporaneous ecological assemblages. For example, coal-bearing units typically assigned to the Carboniferous, Cretaceous and Tertiary periods were originally synchronic, representing assorted ecozones present prior to the great flood of Noah. Unfortunately, Price accomplished most of his geological research by reading reports and textbooks authored by others. Lacking significant field experience, Price interpreted all sedimentary structures and textures as the result of a near-instantaneous occurrence; the sorting and shuffling of fossil assemblages he felt must have occurred during a single event. If Price could compare the systematic labors of biostratigraphers to those of librarians, then his own method resembled that of a blackjack dealer. Price's stratigraphic arguments would be repeated, with amplification, in influential recent-creationist works such as The Genesis Flood (1961) by Morris and Whitcomb.

October 24, 2003

"Rational, Emotional, and Moral Brains: Implications for Teaching and Learning"

Paul Moes, Psychology Department, Calvin College
Abstract
Research in cognitive neuroscience has demonstrated that our brains function by using "semi-independent" modules to process and respond to our world. Only recently has attention been focused on the role of emotional processing modules in influencing conscious cognitive processes. This presentation will review recent research findings, as well as some of the presenter's own research on emotional processing in the left and right hemispheres. Implications of these findings for teaching and learning at Calvin College will also be discussed.

November 7, 2003

"Science on Sunday: A Pastor's Perspective"

Scott Hoezee, Minister of Preaching and Administration, Calvin Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, MI
Abstract
By the time the average seminarian becomes ordained, the chances are good that this freshly minted pastor will know less about science than most college graduates. Although it may have changed, not long ago at Calvin College the moment a student declared that he or she would be pursuing a pre-seminary track, nearly all core curriculum science requirements vanished. This dearth of scientific knowledge is not much helped at the seminary level, either, as most theological schools likewise do not address science in depth. The result is that pastors feel ill-equipped to handle science, don't know much about it to begin with, and so their engagement with this broad and ever-expanding field of inquiry is limited to pop stereotypes that "all science boils down to evolution (which, as everyone ostensibly knows, is the enemy of the faith)." However, I believe that this lack of scientific engagement constitutes a dreadful mistake for pastors. Not only is science a part of daily life in the 21st century, there is also so much that can be gained from science in terms of understanding our Creator's cosmos, being properly curious about the world, and so using scientific knowledge as reasons for doxology. In this talk I wish to suggest some of the reasons why I believe this is the case and proffer some suggestions as to how preachers can integrate science into their work, seeking from those who attend this meeting still other ideas for how pastors could fruitfully weave science and scientific knowledge into the worship life of the church.

February 13, 2004

"The Scientific Efficacy of Prayer"

Douglas VanderGriend, Chemistry Department, Calvin College; and Rev. Alvin VanderGriend, Prayer-Evangelism Associate for Harvest Prayer Ministries
Abstract
Scientific experiments to verify the power of prayer have been conceived of as early as 1872. Even as the evidence mounts, questions remain as to the interpretation and appropriateness of such studies. Prayer being the mentative interaction between the natural and the supernatural, its study epitomizes the elusive harmony between science and religion. We aim to explore how the measurability, reproducibility, and causality of the efficacy of prayer can be integrated with a Christian Reformed world view.

March 12, 2004

"The Human Creature"

Rebecca Flietstra, Associate Professor of Biology, Point Loma Nazarene University
Abstract
For millennia, we have sought to define who exactly we are as human beings. The two main approaches to this self-definition are the scientific/philosophical approach and the religious/theological approach. The biological understanding of human nature has been shaped by evolutionary theory, genetics, and the neurosciences. For Christians, a theological understanding of human nature centers, in part, on the doctrine of the image of God. Because these two approaches have been generated by two seemingly disparate worldviews, they are frequently presented as incompatible with—and even diametrically opposed to—each other. In this talk I will discuss how Christians might think of the human person in a way that incorporates insights from both modern biology and Christian theology. In this way I hope to uncover a richer understanding of both human biology and the human creature as imago Dei.

March 30, 2004

"Can We Allow Climate to Change and Biodiversity to Become Extinct?"

Sir Ghillean Prance, former Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, adjunct professor at the City University of New York and a visiting professor at the University of Reading
Abstract
The lecture will show the seriousness of the current environmental crisis focusing on issues of climate change and the loss of biodiversity. Examples of damage to biodiversity will largely be taken from the lecturer's extensive experience in tropical South America. It will particularly ask questions to Christians about whether we can stand by while such serious damage is being done to Creation and challenge the audience to be more active carers for creation. The lecture will be in the Great Hall of the Prince Conference Center and is free and open to the public.
Co-sponsor
Sponsored by Templeton/ASA Lecture Series

March 31, 2004

"The Eden Project"

Sir Ghillean Prance, former Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, adjunct professor at the City University of New York and a visiting professor at the University of Reading
Abstract
The Eden Project (www.edenproject.com) in Cornwall, England, is a massive undertaking to convert an abandoned quarry into conservatories featuring the major biomes and their botanical specimens of the Earth. It's mission is "to promote the understanding and responsible management of the vital relationship between plants, people and resources leading to a sustainable future for all." Sir Ghillean Prance serves as the Scientific Director for this project. The scriptural roots of the name of this project are intentional, as are many of the principles of environmental stewardship. Come for an enjoyable presentation on "The Eden Project."
Sponsor
Sponsored by Templeton/ASA Lecture Series

April 16, 2004

"The Future in the Instant: What human embryonic stem cells can do, and where they are taking us"

Stephen Matheson, Biology Department, Calvin College
Abstract
Mammalian embryonic stem cells (ES cells) have been the focus of intense research for decades, and their use has reshaped the study of mammalian genetics and development. The utility of ES cells derives from the combination of effectively unlimited developmental potential with relative ease of use and genetic manipulation. Human embryonic stem cells were first isolated in 1998, and were welcomed with enthusiastic predictions of future therapeutic benefits along with significant ethical objections to their creation. Popular debate since then has focused on the tension between the therapeutic potential of the cells and the moral costs of generating them. Opponents of the use of human ES cells have posed challenges based on both therapeutic potential and moral costs. We will examine these two values and their scientific bases, considering the latest findings in this fast-moving field of research. Then we will examine the ramifications of a future in which neither therapeutic utility nor the current moral objections can constitute a significant barrier to the generation of human ES cells. Christians are right to be concerned about how ES cells currently are made, but that will probably change dramatically in the near future. I will argue therefore that Christians should be even more concerned about what stem cells can do, and soon will do.

April 30, 2004

"John Calvin and the Natural World"

Dave Young, Geology, Geography and Environmental Studies Department (emeritus), Calvin College
Abstract
An important way in which one might be a "Calvinist" in regard to the practice of science is to apply Calvin's principle of accommodation to the interpretation of biblical passages with "scientific" relevance. For Calvin, any divine revelation to or divine interaction with people requires that God accommodate or adapt himself to the limited capacities of the human creature. Calvin employed this principle in dealing with biblical representations of the incomprehensible God and the different modes of revelation of Old and New Testaments, but he also found use for it in understanding biblical references to the natural world. In effect, the divine and human authors of Scripture couched their message of redemption in terms of the understanding and comprehension of the natural world possessed by those to whom that message was first addressed. I suggest that contemporary Calvinists might apply the principle of accommodation to seeming disparities between our contemporary knowledge of the natural world and biblical references to the natural world, e.g., the foolish ostrich of Job 39:13-18; the waters under the Earth of Exodus 20:4 and Psalm 24:2; the expanse of Genesis 1:6 and Ezekiel 1:22, 25; the deluge; and the cobra of Psalm 58:4.
Co-sponsor
Co-sponsored by Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship

May 7, 2004

"Copernicus and the Tale of the Pale Blue Dot"

Dennis Danielson, Professor and Associate Head of the Dept. of English, University of British Columbia.
Abstract
Most of us have at some point heard the claim that Copernicus, by "dethroning" earth from the center of the universe, "showed" that the Earth and Earth's inhabitants are cosmically not very special. This claim is routinely extrapolated to function as a principle ― the "Copernican Principle" ― according to which not only is Earth merely one planet among many, but also the Milky Way is merely one galaxy among many, and perhaps what we think of as the whole cosmos is merely one universe among many. Moreover, this "principle" is enlisted to show that science trumps religion: while religion wants to enthrone Earth-dwelling human beings in the center of the universe, science authoritatively demonstrates (in more ways than one) the "mediocrity" of our place. From Fontenelle in the seventeenth century to Carl Sagan in the late twentieth, Copernicus is thus used to bring down human pride, which supposedly stems from our naive religious illusions. Unfortunately, this comic-book version of the meaning of Copernicus is all but universally accepted by many educated people, including some scientists, whose capacity to weigh evidence ought to make them capable of a more well-informed, critical view. An effort to attain such a critical view ― based on the exciting words Copernicus and his followers, and on a measure of undogmatic careful thinking ― can revitalize our perception not only of Copernicus in his own age but also of the interplay between science and metascientific assumptions today.
Co-sponsor
Co-sponsored by Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship