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Seminar Series: Christian Perspectives in Science (2005-2006)

*Events with an asterix are not part of the CPiS seminar series, but should be of interest to many attenders of CPiS seminars.


September 16, 2005

"Sustainability: An Opportunity for the Calvin Curriculum"

Ken Piers, Chemistry & Biochemistry Department, Calvin College.
The sustainability of civilization is, of course, not a novel question. Already over 200 years ago Thomas Malthus suggested that meeting the needs of a geometrically increasing population could not be achieved by an arithmetically increasing production of the basic means of subsistence. More recently, in 1972, the Club of Rome report suggested that unless steps were taken to address fundamental aspects of modern economic life, modern culture would reach the limits to growth sometime "within the next 100 years." Now these concerns come to us with renewed force. In this lecture we will present some of the "signs of the times" that suggest that there exist significant threats to the long-term viability of modern culture, threats which, if not addressed, may result in the emergence of very significant challenges for the survival of civilization as we know it. We will also suggest that an appropriate response to this state of affairs by Calvin College is to begin to address these issues in a systematic way in our curriculum, and will conclude by suggesting one way in which we may begin to achieve this goal.

September 29, 2005*

"Einstein and His World"
Martin Klein, Eugene Higgins Professor Emeritus of Physics and History of Science, Yale University; former general editor, The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein.
(Lecture for a general audience)


September 30, 2005*

"New Paths to the Depths of Physics: Einstein in 1905"
Martin Klein, Eugene Higgins Professor Emeritus of Physics and History of Science, Yale University; former general editor, The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein.

October 7, 2005

"Chastened Realism: Mathematics as a Model for Theology"

Douglas Kindschi, Professor of Mathematics and Philosophy, Grand Valley State University
What is the nature of theological discourse?  Is it a form of science, does it explain reality, is it a useful fiction, is it art or literature?   Rarely do we ask how it might be related to mathematics.  This is in spite of the fact that mathematics historically has had a major impact on how we understand knowledge in philosophy and in theology.  This paper will argue that mathematics can and should again become an active partner in the science and theology discussion.  Furthermore, structural realism in mathematics –– which is different from scientific realism –– is a better model for theology.  The emphasis on relationship, pattern and structure provides an alternative model to the object orientation and empirical method of the natural sciences.  I will be presenting a draft of a paper on this topic prepared as a part of my sabbatical project last semester.

October 13, 2005*

"Beliefs in Natural Science, Then and Now"
Christopher B. Kaiser, Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology, Western Theological Seminary
It is now generally recognized that early modern scientists were motivated by various religious beliefs.  However, historians and philosophers still often assume that the beliefs of early scientists either were abandoned by later scientists or became peripheral to scientific work.  What seems to have escaped the notice of historians and philosophers alike is the fact that some of the beliefs of early modern scientists have persisted in surprisingly consistent forms.  In support of this revisionist position, I shall identify two distinct beliefs having to do with the comprehensibility of the natural world that occur in the writings of early modern scientists like Johannes Kepler.  I shall discuss some of the forms those beliefs took in medieval Christianity and in Reformers like Philip Melanchthon in order to show their specifically theological character.  Finally I shall illustrate the survival and vitality of these beliefs in modern scientists like Albert Einstein and Paul Davies.
This was a Meeter Center colloquium.

October 21, 2005

"Progress and Its Discontents – In the History of Life"

Ralph Stearley, Geology, Geography and Environmental Studies Department, Calvin College
During the last half of the twentieth century, anti-teleological statements concerning the history of life on Earth and processes which contribute to that history have become commonplace among prominent evolutionary biologists.  The course of evolution is held to be opportunistic and unguided.  On the other hand, many nineteenth-century paleontologists and morphologists sensed the opposite.  Charles Darwin, for example, saw the phenomenon of progress as a problem to be explained, rather than eliminated, by the process of natural selection.  Christians are compelled to believe that the triune almighty God acts in a purposive manner.  Furthermore, scripture records that God regards his creation as "good."  Do these considerations provide encouragement for interpreting the history of life as goal-directed?  Or are all human interpretations flawed by our finite capabilities?  Perhaps the notion of progress is difficult to quantify and to demonstrate with certainty.  On the other hand, the notion of "anti-progress" also provides opportunities for selective data presentation and overconfident conclusions on the part of its proponents.  The attack on the idea of progress elaborated by the late Steven J. Gould is an example of such a misrepresentation of the history of life.  A Christian must believe that while the Creator could have devised some solitary "optimal" taxon, God chose to promote organic diversity.  Thus taxonomic diversity is itself a goal.  That being the case, the provision of created machinery for providing this diversity should be acceptable to a Christian.  Discerning providential supervision of such machinery is a matter of faith interpretation and is inherently no different from faith interpretations of individual life history.

October 28, 2005

"Global Warming and Public Policy"

Matthew Heun, Engineering Department, Calvin College
Discussions about global warming sometimes become hostile, in part because people do not openly and honestly disclose − to themselves or to others − the values underlying their policy proposals.  I will briefly discuss the scientific mechanisms by which global warming is thought to develop and how this data poses important public policy questions.  Reducing carbon emissions in the near term presumably imposes costs on some people (e.g. higher taxes, higher prices).  Failing to reduce carbon emissions presumably imposes higher costs on other people and on later generations.  I will review existing policy proposals regarding global warming, and I will make a modest proposal for a "meme" that could make discussions of global warming, and other public policy issues, less hostile and more open.

November 3-5, 2005*

"Conference on "The 'Nature' of Belief" at the Prince Conference Center"
Sponsored by the Templeton Foundation and by the Calvin Seminars in Christian Scholarship

November 18, 2005

"Evolution Wars: A Failure to Communicate"

Uko Zylstra, Professor of Biology and former Dean of Natural Sciences, Calvin College
It is my contention that a major contributing factor to the "evolution wars," as Time magazine refers to the ongoing debate about the teaching of evolution and intelligent design, is a failure to properly define the meaning of evolution.  The term evolution really has multiple meanings.  Yet when people talk and write about evolution or even the theory of evolution, they seldom distinguish between the various meanings.  So when someone asserts that "evolution is a fact," it is not clear in what sense evolution is a fact.  Further probing will generally make obvious the different degrees of empirical evidence that support the different meanings of evolution.  The result is a deep failure to communicate because different parties talking about evolution do not always use the same meanings of the term.  This also holds for classroom discussions about evolution.  If we are to think critically about the discussion of evolution, creation, and intelligent design, then we need to communicate more effectively by making these important distinctions with regard to the different meanings of evolution.

February 8, 2006

"Science and Religion: Nature as Interpreted Book"

Arie Leegwater, Chemistry & Biochemistry Department, Calvin College;  ARIHE lecturer for 2005-2006
Reading the book of nature is a common 16th century metaphor used by divines to describe scientific practice.  How valid is this description?  What funds this hermeneutical interpretation of scientific practice?  This lecture will contrast various perceived interrelations of science and religion.  Historians of science have described this relationship as one of conflict, competition, cooperation and dialogue, continuity and intimacy.  If we consider religion to be the central pivot of human existence, which gives life as a whole its ultimate orientation, how might we best view the relationship of science and religion?  Are there historical examples that aid us in this effort?
Co-sponsored by Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship and by Seminars in Christian Scholarship

March 3, 2006

"Creation in Genesis 1: Genre, Purpose, Truth"

Daniel C. Harlow, Religion Department, Calvin College
Does Genesis intend to teach factual or scientific truths about creation? Or does it intend to affirm theological truths about God, the world, and the human race? Or does it intend to do both? Christians have always disagreed on these issues and doubtless always will. This presentation argues that the framework in Genesis 1, six days of divine labor plus a seventh day of divine rest, does not represent a historical or temporal framework indicating how God created and how long God took to create. It is rather an analogical framework that aims to depict the created status of everything in the Israelite cosmos. It pictures the formation of the three realms of creation as understood in Israelite cosmology – heavens above, earth beneath, and waters under the earth – and the symmetrical filling of those three realms with creatures suitable to each. In its brief and highly stylized account, Genesis 1 reflects the ancient Israelite cosmology. Its conception of the physical universe is not timelessly valid but culturally relative. The timeless truth of Genesis rather lies in its theological affirmations concerning the sovereignty of God, the goodness of creation, and the purpose of humanity in the divine plan.

March 8, 2006

"Putting Science in its Place: The Culture of Scientific Practice"

Arie Leegwater, Chemistry & Biochemistry Department, Calvin College;  ARIHE lecturer for 2005-2006.
A sociological reading of scientific practice is presently in vogue. When scientific practice is shaped by local conditions it is no longer considered to be a (the) universal undertaking, but is rather a provincial practice in which site, region and circulation matter. Science does not transcend particularities; it discloses them. For all the rhetoric that scientific practice is independent of class, politics, gender, race, religion, and much else besides, the history of science belies the fact. The social reading of science, advanced during the past few decades, is in sharp contrast to earlier ways of viewing science as an intellectual enterprise which weaves a universal network of binding theories. Such social analysis has become common coin and has elicited sharp rejoinders reflected in the "science wars." But does a social analysis of science and a focus on human interests probe deeply enough? Does such an analysis do justice to the "pre-understandings" required before observations are made, or to the "commitments" of scientists? Can a scientist find meaning in equations, observations, and technical terms by starting from an interpretive, or hermeneutic, framework?
Co-sponsored by Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship and by Seminars in Christian Scholarship

March 10, 2006

"Thinking God's Thoughts after Him"

Ronald A. Buelow, Professor of Mathematics, Bethany Lutheran College
Man has long copied the designs that God has placed into the universe.  He has placed these designs in us, in the many creatures of His creation, and in the elements and substances that are part of His marvelous creation. This multimedia presentation shows how design and mathematics are created by God, with man discovering it small piece by small piece.

April 1, 2006* (at GVSU)

"Darwin, Intelligence, and Religion: How Much Can Evolution Explain?*"
John F. Haught, Landegger Distinguished Professor of Theology, Georgetown University.
(This is the keynote address of the spring conference of the Grand Dialogue in Science and Religion)

April 21, 2006*

"A New Image of Science and Nature*"
Joseph Rouse, Professor of Philosophy, Wesleyan University.
Sponsored by the Metanexus Local Society Initiative of Calvin College and the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship

April 27, 2006

"Science:  A Misused Weapon in a Religious War"

Randy Isaac, Executive Director, American Scientific Affiliation
If science and Christian faith are in ultimate harmony, why is there so much conflict today in our school boards, churches, classrooms, and courtrooms? The metaphor of war has been used since the late 19th century to describe the severity of the conflict.  The real war is not between science and Christianity but between different religious perspectives, with pseudo-science as the weapon of choice.  Evolutionism, creationism, and the Intelligent Design movement are key combatants in this religious war between metaphysical naturalism and theism. By understanding these forces, we can derive a better perspective of the relationship between science and our Christian faith.

May 5, 2006

"Spiritual Care in Nursing:  Christ Has No Hands But Ours"

Judith A. Baker, Nursing Department, Calvin College
As long as nursing has existed, nurses have understood the link between the spirit and the needs of the mind and body.  Even today, in our high-tech healthcare environment, this need is apparent and, in fact, awareness of it has increased.  As we educate nursing students and practice nursing, it is imperative that we understand what the spirit is and how we could and should care for the needs of the spirit.  In nursing we do that through a process which involves assessment, diagnosis, planning, interventions and evaluation. In recent years we have seen a burgeoning of research on topics related to spirituality.  Often these are based on vague or varied definitions of spirituality which leads to questionable comparative results.  Prayer is an activity that is being widely studied, and the results have been cause for both encouragement and dismay.  Making prayer just another tool in the arsenal of healthcare raises questions we need to address.