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Seminar Series: Christian Perspectives in Science (2007-2008)

Schedule

September 21, 2007

"Revisiting the 'God of the gaps'"

Ronald Larson, Chair and George Granger Brown Professor of Chemical Engineering, University of Michigan.
Abstract
Antipathy to "God of the gaps" arguments, when taken to its extreme conclusion, leads to passiveness in the face of aggressive, naturalistic, science seeking to claim for itself alone all truth, including that traditionally the province of theology or philosophy. Such pretensions must be resisted for the sake of science as much as for the sake of theology, and this resistance must not shrink from calling attention to "gaps" or failures of science to explain credibly all that it sometimes claims as its own. This talk will explore the issues surrounding several chasms in modern scientific explanations, including the fine tuning of natural laws, the origin of life, of human consciousness, of morality, and of human spiritual experience.
Recordings and related resources
powerpoint slides
audio recording (.wma)

September 28, 2007

"A Classical Christian Emergent Anthropology"

John Cooper, Professor of Philosophical Theology, Calvin Theological Seminary
Abstract
I'll argue that biblical anthropology presents a holistic or integral view of soul and body, but one in which persons can exist temporarily without earthly bodies. I'll then present a version of this anthropology – the generically Thomist view that that soul is the subsistent form (organizing, empowering principle) of the material body that constitutes humans as one spiritual-physical substance (not two-substance dualism) – a living organism with human capacities. But by God's supernatural power, the soul can exist apart from the body between death and resurrection. (It is not naturally immortal.) I modify Thomism by opting for a traducian rather than a creationist view of the soul: the union of sperm and egg is not merely biological but produces a new spiritual-physical individual. The soul does not "emerge" and develop from mere physical stuff by metaphysical magic (as in physicalism), but because the person-spiritual capacities are potentially present from conception.
Recordings and related resources
handout
audio recording (.wma)

October 12, 2007

"Origins: A Reformed Look at Creation, Design, and Evolution"

Deborah Haarsma, Physics & Astronomy Department; Loren Haarsma, Physics & Astronomy Department, Calvin College
Abstract
FaithAlive Resources, the publishing ministry of the Christian Reformed Church, asked us to write a book "for the person in the pew" on issues of origins. In this short seminar, we'll give an overview of the contents of the book and our writing approach, as well as answer audience questions. The book begins with chapters on God's governance of natural processes, doing science as part of a Christian worldview, and interpretation of scripture. Other chapters review the scientific, theological, and worldview issues around the age of the Earth, the Big Bang, biological evolution, and intelligent design. The book ends with two chapters on several scientific and theological issues around human origins. 
(Read Calvin College's press release.)
Recordings and related resources
powerpoint slides
audio recording (.wma)

October 26, 2007

"Christianity and Climate Change: Understanding the Range of Responses"

Janel Curry, Professor of Geology, Geography and Environmental Studies, former Dean of Research & Scholarship, Calvin College
Abstract
Since Lynn White's famous article on the relationship between Christianity and ecological destruction, many environmental activists have accused this faith community of inaction (or worse – actions that are ecologically destructive), when it comes to environmental protection and health. However, recent concerns over climate change have led several scientific and environmental organizations to begin to build bridges with the range of Christian traditions – mainline protestant, evangelical, and Catholic – recognizing that all must be part of the solution to global climate change. This talk helps get beyond the stereotypes of the relationship between Christians and the environment. A framework is presented for comparing Christian traditions in terms of their attitudes toward environmental issues and policies, along with a discussion of the implications for climate change policy.
Recordings and related resources
powerpoint slides
audio recording (.wma)

November 30, 2007

"Animal Welfare and Global Sustainability: Compassionate Eating as Care of Creation"

Matthew C. Halteman, Philosophy Department, Calvin College
Abstract
The two-fold purpose of this presentation is (1) to demonstrate the value of questions concerning the just and compassionate treatment of animals ("the animal question") for provoking a more holistic understanding of the wide spectrum of issues organized under the general heading of "creation care"; and (2) to highlight the moral and spiritual significance that the act of eating takes on in light of these important but often hidden connections between animal welfare and global sustainability. The animal question may at first appear far removed from the most pressing problems of our age. But a closer look reveals that our seemingly trivial daily decisions concerning the use of animals (especially the billions of animals raised for food in confined animal feeding operations or "factory farms") have serious consequences not just for the animals, but for the food, commerce, and education systems of developing countries, the dignity of the human workforce that brings animal products to market, the integrity of rural communities here and abroad, the health of an increasingly obese and diseased human population, the viability of the healthcare systems that treat these ills, the sustainability of the world's natural resources, and even the hastening of global climate change. The ways in which we currently use animals, it turns out, have profound implications for all facets of creation—human, animal, and environmental. As this evidence of the unintended consequences of industrial livestock production continues to mount, it is becoming increasingly clear that, far from being a trivial matter of personal preference, eating is an activity that has deep moral and spiritual significance. Surprising as it may sound, the simple question of what to eat can prompt us daily to answer God's call to care for creation—to bear witness to the marginalization of the poor, the exploitation of the oppressed, the suffering of the innocent, and the degradation of the natural world, and to participate in the reconciliation of these ills through intentional acts of love, justice, mercy, and good stewardship.
Recordings and related resources
text of lecture
audio recording (.wma)

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

February 9, 2008* (Grand Valley State Univ.)

"Is the Cosmos All There Is? The quest for answers to big cosmological questions"*
Howard J. VanTill, Professor Emeritus of Physics and Astronomy, Calvin College
Keynote lecture of the Grand Dialogue in Science and Religion Annual Conference.


February 15, 2008

"Randomness, Purpose, God, and Evolution – Can they go together?"

Richard Colling, Professor of Biology, Olivet Nazarene University. Author of Random Designer: Created from Chaos to Connect with the Creator
Abstract
The history books of life – fossils and DNA – reveal a most remarkable creation story. Over unfathomable eons of prescribed life and death cycles, single-celled life has advanced as a divine, majestic, and interconnected web. Filling every niche of our dynamic ever-changing planet, evolutionary creation has miraculously culminated in sentient beings capable of self and God-awareness – us! As Christians desiring to remain faithful and culturally credible in our claim that God is the creator and that all truth is God's truth, we are challenged to work together across faith boundaries seeking ways to effectively integrate knowledge from science into a dynamic and coherent faith. This talk introduces a new creation "logos" – Random (Equal Opportunity) Design. Simple, but ultimately profound, random design reflects a God-ordained and sustained paradigm of astonishing creative genius that produces an integrated network of unrivaled biological development. The talk includes defining appropriate definitions of randomness, the importance of adequate information/dot development, examples of randomness generating remarkable biological order, and a call to expand traditional views of scripture and science to accommodate a bigger, more profound God.
Recordings and related resources
powerpoint slides
audio recording (Quicktime)

February 29, 2008

"Where is the "C" in Developing E-Type Systems?"

Patrick Bailey, Computer Science & Information Systems Department, Calvin College
Abstract
Where is the connection between faith and writing better code? What influence does a practicing Christian have in the development of systems? This discussion examines the challenges of delivering software to a demanding world in the context of a Christian perspective. In addition to providing background on the software development process, the presentation includes an overview of the questionnaire comments from professed Christians involved in software as they explained their view of the "link" between their faith and profession.
Recordings and related resources
powerpoint slides
audio recording (.wma)

March 28, 2008

"Interactive Cellular Assemblies, Neural Suppression, and the Unified Character of Consciousness"

Eric LaRock, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Oakland University
Abstract
Over the past few decades research in neuroscience has exploded in the area of visual consciousness. Neuroscientists have begun to unravel considerably more details about some of the functions and possible causes that underlie visual consciousness. What is fascinating about our current knowledge of the brain is that visual consciousness of an object's properties involves the activity of neurons distributed throughout the visual cortex. Specialized subassemblies of neurons have been identified in different areas of the visual cortex that respond to specific properties of objects, such as shape, color, motion, and location (Bartels & Zeki, 2006; Zeki, 2003). From a biological point of view, the evolution of these specialized neuronal areas has enabled the brain to represent the particular properties of an object more economically. But the advantages of functional specialization have led to apparent gaps in our attempts to provide a thoroughgoing neural story of the unity of visual consciousness: thus far, there is no known central processing mechanism, or convergence site in the brain, where perceptual information about an object's properties could coalesce to form a unitary object of consciousness (see Crick & Koch, 1990; Gray, 1999; Singer, 1996, 1999, 2007). Because the neuronal firings that underlie an object's representational contents (e.g., shape and color) are distributed throughout the visual cortex, it is difficult to understand how a single, unified object could arise in visual consciousness. If there were direct correlations between an object's representational contents and distributed neural firings, it would seem that visual consciousness would consist of an unconnected set of properties minusobject unity. Normal subjects, in any case, do not visually experience objects as disunities; so merely identifying the neural correlates of the property representations of an object cannot be the complete story (LaRock, 2006, 2007). The recognition of this explanatory gap has motivated various theories of binding in the neurosciences. For example, Singer (1996, 2007) proposes an interactive cellular assembly hypothesis, and Luck and Beach (1998) defend the neural suppression hypothesis. In this paper I elaborate and provide a critique of Singer's interactive cellular assembly hypothesis, and subsequently examine whether Luck and Beach's neural suppression hypothesis might have the explanatory tools requisite to account for the unified character of an object's properties at the level of consciousness. Against Singer, I argue (1) that neuronal synchrony is not sufficient for binding the representations of an object's properties into a unified object of consciousness; and (2) that binding is not necessary for consciousness. Against Luck and Beach, I argue that although neural suppression might help to explain disambiguation at higher levels of the processing hierarchy, this does not entail an explanation of binding. In the final section, I develop a Kantian approach to the unity of consciousness and discuss some of its metaphysical and methodological implications.

April 7, 2008

"Real Faith and Fictional Worlds"

George Murphy, Pastoral associate at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Akron, Ohio; adjunct faculty member at Trinity Lutheran Seminary; author of several books on science on religion.
Abstract
Science fiction has become increasingly respectable and influential in recent years, portraying a variety of futures. God usually seems to be absent from those futures, together with every other aspect of Christianity. But is that really the case? Religious questions often surface in new and challenging guises, and are sometimes quite explicit. This talk will reflect on religion and science in the science fiction world, with reference to a number of popular books, films and TV shows, and will suggest some ways in which science fiction can help to communicate the Christian message.
Recordings and related resources
audio recording (.wma)

May 2, 2008

"Christianity and Climate Change: Understanding the Range of Responses"

Janel Curry, Dean of Research and Professor of Geology, Geography and Environmental Studies, Calvin College.

(This is a repeat of seminar presented last October 26, to be given for a group of visiting alumni. If you missed the earlier seminar, feel free to attend this one.)