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Calvin College Seminar Series: Human Origins

Sponsors
Sponsored by the Office of the Provost
Co-sponsored by the Religion, Philosophy, and History Departments and the Science Division
About the Seminar
This seminar series is intended to promote discussion and exchange information about issues related to human origins. Expertise is drawn from many departments: Religion, philosophy, history, psychology, geology, biology, the physical sciences, and others – as well as Calvin Theological Seminary and several of our sister Christian colleges.
Time and place
Seminars are typically held several Wednesdays and Fridays, starting at 3:30 or 7:00 p.m. For exact time and room locations, see the schedule below. See Calvin's Visitor Resources for directions to campus and a campus map. Faculty, students, staff and off-campus visitors are welcome. If you would like to receive regular e-mail announcements for each week's seminar, or if you have other questions or comments, contact Loren Haarsma. These seminars will also be announced on the Christian Perspectives in Science web page.

Archives

This seminar series on human origins officially began in fall 2010. However, some earlier seminars held at Calvin College and which are relevant to this topic are included these archives.

Related Seminars

Calvin College also has a regular Christian Perspectives in Science seminar series on a wide range of topics at the intersection of science and Christian faith.


Schedule for Spring 2014

February 21, 2014, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110

"Randomness, Divine Providence, and Anxiety"

Jim Bradley, Mathematics Department (emeritus), Calvin College.

Abstract
Scientists often assert that some aspect of the natural world evidences randomness. However, for many people – not just scientists – the existence of randomness in nature seems inconsistent with the existence of a divine being who is omniscient, omnipotent, sovereign, and who acts with providential care. This presentation will offer a response to this theological anxiety about randomness. It will argue that much of the apparent conflict arises from misunderstandings of randomness and that, rightly understood, randomness can be seen as originating in the divine nature; it will also provide a speculative but plausible explanation of the divine use of randomness in evolution.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording; power_point_slides

March 14, 2014, 1:30 p.m. in Science Building basement room 010 (note the time -- and a second seminar later in the day)

"Modern genomics and human evolution"

Dennis Venema, Biology Department, Trinity Western University.

Abstract
In recent years the rapidly expanding field of comparative genomics has thrown much light on human origins. This evidence confirms our evolutionary history as a species nested within the great apes, demonstrates that our speciation took place as a population, and reveals that our speciation was prolonged and complex, with genetic exchange between our lineage and closely-related hominins. Recent advances in paleogenomics – the sequencing of DNA from long-extinct species – as well as deeper investigation of our own genetic diversity will serve to refine our understanding of our evolutionary past in the near future. I will describe these scientific findings and speak briefly about their theological significance in this Biology department seminar; I will explore the theological questions in greater depth at a Christian Perspectives in Science seminar later in the day.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording, power_point_slides
Co-sponsors
Calvin College Biology Department

March 14, 2014, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building basement room 010 (note the time -- and another seminar earlier in the day)

"Christianity and evolution: lessons from the past, prospects for the future"

Dennis Venema, Biology Department, Trinity Western University.

Abstract
Evangelical Christianity has a long history of interaction with prevailing scientific issues. While recent advances in comparative genomics have greatly improved our scientific understanding of human origins, evangelicals are only beginning to grapple with the implications of these discoveries for long-held theological views. Do humans descend from a historical Adam and Eve? Is original sin inherited biologically? What does it mean to be created in the image of God? This seminar will explore the theological issues arising out of recent genomics evidence, and draw on lessons from our history that may be helpful for the present discussion.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording, power_point_slides
Co-sponsors
Calvin College Biology Department

April 4, 2014, 12:30 p.m. in Science Building basement room 010 (note the time -- and a second seminar later in the day)

"Evolutionary Evils and the Goodness of God: The Darwinian Problem of Animal Suffering" -- Part 1

John Schneider, Religion Department emeritus, Calvin College.

Abstract
Scientific discovery of a “Darwinian World” generates a new form of the old problem of God and natural evils. This “Darwinian Problem” arises from the unveiling of previously unimagined amounts, kinds, and distributions of apparently random, morally purposeless suffering by animals in the concurrent systems of nature and also during an unfathomably long span of pre-human time. We must wonder whether such systems, which inscribe such horrific suffering into the conditions of existence for so many animals, could be the design of the omnipotent and loving God of Christian theism. I maintain that prevailing God-justifying explanations are unconvincing. Contrary to Neo-Cartesian theory, many animals do suffer in ways that should matter to us morally. Further, “lapsarian” appeals to a world-ruinous Fall fail on both scientific and analytical grounds. Still further, “Only Way” appeals to the inevitability of such natural evils in any comparably “regular” physical world violate our intuition of divine omnipotence. Finally, “Skeptical Theism”—appeal to the epistemic likelihood on theism of our not knowing the God-justifying explanation—violates our intuition of divine love. Rather than concede the argument, or retreat into “fideism,” I propose renovation of ancient aesthetic theodicy along non-lapsarian lines. Taking off from the framework of Irenaeus (d. c. 200) rather than the familiar lapsarian theodicy of Augustine (354-430), and using the book of Job and Romans (especially 8-11), I propose that “God the Artist” deliberately integrated natural evils into the world, with the God-justifying goal of “defeating” them in and through the Incarnation, Atonement, and Resurrection of Christ. The cosmic glory of a world brought about via the “defeat” of evils (rightly understood) is much greater in goodness for all creatures and things than any world brought about without them. (Part 2 of this seminar was given on May 9 -- see below.)
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording; power_point_slides; (Part 2 of this seminar was given on May 9 -- see below.)

April 4, 2014, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building basement room 010 (note the time -- and another seminar earlier in the day)

"Seeking Adam: Questions from Genetics"

David Wilcox, Biology Department emeritus, Eastern University.

Abstract
As the science of genetics has developed, an increasing number of data points indicate difficulties in the traditional theological understanding of human origins. This paper focus on three such areas. First, timing, place and movement during the beginnings of human history, including the possibility of an early bottleneck. Second, recent evidence on the timing and extent of interbreeding with the Neanderthals, with an evaluation of the likely impact of such interbreeding on human function. Third, an evaluation of genetic evidences which indicates that human uniqueness should be viewed as product of dramatic functional alterations in the genetic control of neural development. And finally, along the way, a consideration of the possibilities for theological integration which these points raise.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording; power_point_slides

May 2, 2014, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building basement room 010

"Evolution, sin, and redemption: Multiple ways to harmonize human evolution and the doctrine of original sin."

Loren Haarsma, Physics Department, Calvin College.

Abstract
As archeology and genetics help us learn more about human origins and evolution, the issues which generate the greatest theological concern usually cluster around the historicity of Adam and Eve and original sin. In the last few decades, Christian scholars have proposed several competing scenarios for harmonizing the doctrine of original sin with recent discoveries about human origins. These scenarios share a central theological core affirming God’s goodness and justice, sin as a rebellion of God’s revealed will, and the centrality of atonement through Christ. These scenarios disagree in their proposed answers to some long-standing theological questions such as: How intellectually and morally advanced were the first humans who sinned? Was a state of fully developed moral righteousness a state that humans might have grown into through obedience over time, or was it an actual state that some humans lived in? Does sinful disobedience require an explicit command to have been violated, or does violating the promptings of conscience count as well? Was human sin unavoidable? Did human disobedience damage human nature all in a single disobedient act (or pair of acts), or was it through accumulation of many disobedient acts over a longer period of time? How is humanity’s sinful nature passed to each generation? In this seminar we’ll discuss these different scenarios for human origins and original sin, and examine the competing theological challenges facing each.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording; handout

May 9, 2014, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building basement room 010

"Part 2 of: Evolutionary Evils and the Goodness of God: The Darwinian Problem of Animal Suffering"

John Schneider, Religion Department emeritus, Calvin College.

Abstract
This is a continuation of the seminar which John Schneider gave on April 4. If you didn't attend on April 4, you are encouraged to look at the presentation_slides and listen to the audio_file. Scientific discovery of a “Darwinian World” generates a new form of the old problem of God and natural evils. This “Darwinian Problem” arises from the unveiling of previously unimagined amounts, kinds, and distributions of apparently random, morally purposeless suffering by animals in the concurrent systems of nature and also during an unfathomably long span of pre-human time. We must wonder whether such systems, which inscribe such horrific suffering into the conditions of existence for so many animals, could be the design of the omnipotent and loving God of Christian theism. I maintain that prevailing God-justifying explanations are unconvincing. Contrary to Neo-Cartesian theory, many animals do suffer in ways that should matter to us morally. Further, “lapsarian” appeals to a world-ruinous Fall fail on both scientific and analytical grounds. Still further, “Only Way” appeals to the inevitability of such natural evils in any comparably “regular” physical world violate our intuition of divine omnipotence. Finally, “Skeptical Theism”—appeal to the epistemic likelihood on theism of our not knowing the God-justifying explanation—violates our intuition of divine love. Rather than concede the argument, or retreat into “fideism,” I propose renovation of ancient aesthetic theodicy along non-lapsarian lines. Taking off from the framework of Irenaeus (d. c. 200) rather than the familiar lapsarian theodicy of Augustine (354-430), and using the book of Job and Romans (especially 8-11), I propose that “God the Artist” deliberately integrated natural evils into the world, with the God-justifying goal of “defeating” them in and through the Incarnation, Atonement, and Resurrection of Christ. The cosmic glory of a world brought about via the “defeat” of evils (rightly understood) is much greater in goodness for all creatures and things than any world brought about without them.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording; power_point_slides

October 10, 2014, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110

"Evolution and Christian Ethics: Mapping the Terrain"

Criag Boyd, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University.

Abstract
In this talk, I look at what I think are four ways in which scientists and ethicists have considered normative ethics in light of evolutionary theory. I have tentatively labelled them the conformers, the resisters, the maximizers, and the transformers. The first two accept the idea of evolution as a basically “selfish” process. The latter two see it as ambivalent. The conformers think that the “ought” of ethics should be determined by the “is” of evolutionary biology. The resisters think that we should somehow try to “fight back” against the power of the selfish genes. The maximizers think that since evolution is ambivalent there are resources within the human person that can enable her, when properly cultivated, to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. Finally, the transformers see the need for a normative account of ethics that moves the agent beyond the impulses and drives of nature itself. For the transformer, a “something more” is needed and can come in the form of the normative power of reason. It is within this camp that I think Christian ethics can come to peace with evolutionary biology.
Recordings and related resources
audio_recording, overview_slide.



Archives from 2010 - 2013

October 8, 2010

"Scientific and Theological Issues on Human Origins"

Loren Haarsma, Physics and Astronomy Department, Calvin College

 

 

Abstract
This is the first of what we hope will be a series of seminars this year by various speakers on the topic of human origins. We will first summarize discoveries made in the last few decades in genetics and paleontology, and discuss what we can learn from these discoveries about how God created humans. Then we'll survey main points of Christian tradition on a number of important theological topics: humans as God's image-bearers, the human soul, original sin, and natural evil. We'll describe several proposed scenarios for human origins which seek to bring together what we learn both from scripture and from nature, and we'll analyze some of the pros and cons of those scenarios. The goal of this seminar is to map out the important issues, the areas of agreement, and the range of disagreements. Audience questions and suggestions will influence which particular issues we explore in greater depth in later seminars.
Recordings and related resources
audio recording, power point slides

October 20, 2010

"Evolution and Explanation"

Steve Matheson, Biology Department, Calvin College

 

 

Abstract
Is evolution true? Most scientists consider this question settled. In this lecture we'll address a somewhat different question, and a better one: How does evolution make sense of the living world? In other words, how does evolution explain the ways in which living things came to be the way they are? We will look at the many kinds of evidence and data that are explained by common ancestry so that we can understand why evolutionary theory has been so successful. We will look at points of concern for Christians and briefly discuss the ways in which Christians can respond to those worries. And there will be plenty of time for questions and answers. Come learn why evolutionary theory is such an excellent explanation.
Recordings and related resources
audio recording, handout, power point slides
Co-sponsors
Calvin College Biology Department. Calvin Integrated Sciences Research Institute.

November 5, 2010

"Reading Genesis 2-3 in an Age of Evolutionary Science"

Daniel Harlow, Religion Department, Calvin College

 

 

Abstract
This presentation will summarize the main points of an article recently published in the journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (vol. 62, no. 3 [September 2010]: 179–95) and then lead a discussion of it and of issues it raises. The article is framed by recent research in molecular biology, primatology, sociobiology, and phylogenetics––research which indicates that our species, Homo sapiens, did not descend from a single pair of individuals, and that early Homo sapiens did not start in paradisal physical or moral conditions. The body of the article is a study of Genesis 2–3 in its literary and cultural context, examining Adam and Eve as strictly literary figures, with attention both to the biblical text and ancient Near Eastern parallels. Along the way, it explains why most biblical scholars do not find the doctrines of the Fall and original sin in Genesis 2–3 itself but only in later Christian readings of these chapters. The article also examines briefly Paul's appeal to Adam as a type of Christ. It concludes that the doctrines of the Fall and original sin may be reaffirmed with Adam and Eve as literary rather than historical figures, but invite reformulation given the evidence for an evolving creation.
Recordings and related resources
audio recording, handout

February 9, 2011

"Those Scary Fossils: History of Paleoanthropological Discoveries"

Ralph Stearley, Geology, Geography and Environmental Studies Department, Calvin College.

 

 

Abstract
Biologists and anatomists have been intrigued by natural comparisons between apes and humans since the 1600's. In the middle 1700's, Carolus Linnaeus included humans, apes and monkeys in his mammalian order, Primates. These biological investigations set the stage for the fossil discoveries to come. Starting in the middle 1800's, strange and scary remains of human-like creatures began to be discovered, first in Europe, then Asia, then Africa. The oldest of these fossil hominids now date to 6 million years before the present; all of the earliest forms are African. Some remains are associated with tools of bone or stone or with body ornamentation. Many skeletal elements demonstrate malnutrition, bone breakage, or other signs of a hard life. The earliest of these fossil hominids have cranial capacities slightly larger than those of present-day great apes. Clear trends can be seen over time in stature & locomotion, dentition, and cranial capacity during the past 4 million years, with conditions resembling more and more those of modern humans through time. This amplifying record has seemed ominous to some—are there skeletons in our human family closet? Or, are these individuals no more embarrassing than the other horse thieves in all our lineages? This talk will narrate the history of these discoveries and hopefully explain something of their significance. Lots of photos, including many scary ones.
Recordings and related resources
Presentation Slides, Audio Recording

February 11, 2011

"Adam's Bloodline: Genesis, Race, and Human Origins"

David N. Livingstone, Professor of Geography & Intellectual History, Queen's University Belfast

 

 

Abstract
The idea that the human race can be traced back to a single ancestor has been both deep and lasting. In our own day it surfaces in very different arenas, both religious and secular. Contemporary geneticists and palaeo-anthropologists, for example, using DNA research, have variously christened humanity's common ancestor Mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosome Adam. Representing a very different politics, religiously-motivated racial supremacists in the United States have been no less busy working out an Adamic chronology for particular racial groups with particularly pernicious propaganda. In this lecture I explore something of these recent obsessions before turning to an historical analysis of the role of the biblical Adam in theories about human origins over the past five centuries. In particular I focus on a wide range of thinkers who argued for the existence of human beings before the Adam of the Genesis narrative. During the seventeenth century, the idea was largely abominated as heretical, but in years to come attracted increasing support as it enabled a range of exegetical and empirical problems to be resolved. It presented solutions to the question of the settlement of the New World, eased problems posed by the so-called pagan chronologies, and offered a biological solution to issues about acclimatization, hybridity, and racial divergence. Its use as a political resource was no less conspicuous as it was variously mobilised for both egalitarian and racist purposes. For these and other reasons, the idea of pre-adamic humanity attracted a growing range of committed defenders – often those with a conservative Christian heritage. In the aftermath of the Darwinian revolution, the idea was often adopted by evangelical scientists and theologians who found in the idea of pre-Adamic hominids, nearly but not quite human, a means of making peace with evolutionary anthropology. Over its remarkable history since the mid-seventeenth century, the idea of non-Adamic humanity has run the gamut from humanitarianism to racism, from heresy to orthodoxy. The passion to track Adam's bloodline, one way or another, continues to fascinate the human race. If Paul Ricoeur is correct to say that Adam's fall from grace is "the anthropological myth par excellence", the mission to track Adam's bloodline must surely rank as the archetypal quest of Western culture.
Recordings and related resources
Presentation Slides, audio recording

February 17, 2011

"Evolution and the Fall: Clarifying the Issues, Imagining the Possibilities"

James K.A. Smith, Philosophy Department, Calvin College.

 

 

Abstract
This presentation aims to do three things. The first task is somewhat polemical, but the second and third goals are meant to be constructive (and maybe even irenic!). (1) What's not at issue: I will suggest a clarification of what's at stake in the current discussion by noting what this debate is not about. It is not about evolution vs. creationism. There isn't a simple dichotomy of pro-science versus anti-science views. As we jointly examine and critique the various proposed scenarios for human origins, those who resist the more "symbolic" interpretations of the Fall do take the scientific data seriously. This may be stating the obvious, but some articulations of the issues seem to require that these clarifications be made. (2) Going "meta": Drawing on Alasdair MacIntyre's account of tradition, I want to sketch an understanding of confessional theological reflection which emphasizes that wrestling with what is essential to a tradition is a defining feature of a tradition. In other words, I want to paint a picture of "tradition" and "orthodoxy" which makes room for genuine development and reform within a tradition. So defending "orthodoxy" cannot and should not be equated with mere repristination. However, it does entail that theological development and reform still discerns parameters and boundaries for what constitutes a faithful extension of the tradition. (3) Imagining the Fall: constructively, I want to loosen up our theological imagination by proposing a model that takes seriously evolutionary and genetic evidence for common ancestry, predation, etc. while also retaining a doctrine of a "historical" Fall. My goal in this section is to point out that proposals that take seriously evolutionary and genetic evidence need not entail rejecting a historical understanding of the Fall, though this will also require some reconfiguration of how the doctrines of the Fall and original sin are articulated. My only goal in this respect is to suggest that, with some faithful theological imagination, we could imagine some models that are not yet on the table.
Recordings and related resources
audio recording, handout/notes/text of talk

February 18, 2011

"What can Evolutionary Psychology Tell Us about Sin?"

Paul Moes, Psychology Department, Calvin College.

 

 

Abstract
Evolutionary Psychology (EP) has had a significant impact on psychological theories and has a good deal to say about human nature and the reasons for our actions – both good and bad. But can EP shed light on biblical concepts of sin or righteousness? This presentation will review the basic ideas of EP, its implications for psychology and how it may – or may not – help us understand our basic sinful nature. The basic thesis for the presentation is that EP, while providing some valuable insights, fails to capture the full extent of our human nature, including our sinful tendencies.
Recordings and related resources
Presentation Slides, audio recording

March 2, 2011

"God, Chance, and Purpose"

Kelly Clark, Philosophy Department, Calvin College.

 


Abstract
Before God and creation via evolution get too cozy, we need to remember that evolution is a chancy process. While natural selection itself is not a method of chance, what it selects from is a matter of chance—random mutations. Random mutations supply the fuel that operates the evolutionary machinery. Without mutations, individuals within a species would have exactly the same characteristics; none would be any better than another in terms of avoiding predators or coaxing mates. It’s only when mutations occur—making some individuals slightly faster or able to smell better or more attractive—that natural selection kicks in, lending its endorsement to the favorable trait. Without mutations, natural selection is empty. But, and here’s the God and creation problem, mutations are random. How can a random process be compatible with God’s intentions to create plants and animals, and then humans (in His image)? If the process was random, how could God have known what he was going to get? How could God have guided a process that is fueled by random events? I'll consider five models for how God might use random processes to accomplish God's purposes.
Recordings and related resources
Presentation Slides, audio recording

March 4, 2011

"A Historian's Approach to Ancient Stories of Human Origin and Cosmic Structure"

Bert DeVries, History Department, Calvin College

 

 

Abstract
In antiquity the intent of stories of human origin was not objective explanation of a process over time, but narrative portrayal of archetypical events that help the audience make sense out of their own existential human predicament. The truth of such narratives lay not in their pinpoint accuracy in the realms of biology or geology, but in their liturgical power enabling an audience to come face to face with the life forces threatening to overwhelm them. The presenter will examine ancient stories of origin and order as historical documents, both as sources for ancient socio-religious history and for their role in ancient history. First, various types of stories from ancient cultures, such as the Vedic Myth of Perusha, The Babylonian Descent of Ishtar into the Underworld, and The Canaanite Conflict between Baal and Yam, will be used to demonstrate the role of literary narrative in the representation of meaning for humans face-to-face with cosmic forces. Second, while the Genesis creation stories served a similar socio-religious purpose, they were adapted for that late in ancient history, at a point in the mid-first millennium BC when there was a broad cultural shift away from cosmo-theism to transcendental theism, not only in exilic/post-exilic proto-Judaism, but also among neighboring societies (in India, Persia and Greece, for example).  The purpose of this presentation is to bring out the meaning of human-origin texts in their original historic context in order to make clear these do not lend themselves to the commonly held "concordist" presupposition that the ancient creation narratives contain scientifically verifiable information.
Recordings and related resources
audio recording, handout, one-page summary of implications

March 11, 2011

"Tell me: How long did Adam dwell in Paradise?"  Traditions of reading sacred texts in the light of modern biblical criticism.

Frans VanLiere, History Department, Calvin College

 

 

Abstract
This presentation will be a follow-up to Bert deVries's presentation last week. It will outline how Genesis 1-3 was interpreted after it became to be regarded as sacred history. Ultimately, the problem with the current debate over human origins has less to do with the problem of human origins than with the question: How do we read these ancient texts? For centuries, the meaning of Genesis 1-3 was determined not so much by what these texts actually said, as by what they were supposed to say; they were thought to contain some hidden truth that was especially relevant for the religious community that held them as sacred, but this truth could only be uncovered through mystical and spiritual reading. For centuries this is just how these texts were read: against a religious framework that assigned a deeper, mystical or theological meaning to these texts. These are the biblical hermeneutics underlying Paul's letter to the Corinthians, as well as the Reformed Confessions. However, modern biblical criticism has challenged this hermeneutical model. While a modern critical reading may solve many of the apparent contradictions between these sacred texts and science, it does raise the question: Can we still regard these texts as authoritative and sacred, if we read them in this way? Or do they become "just" stories, no longer the Word of God?
Recordings and related resources
Presentation Slides, audio recording

March 17, 2011

A discussion on the article, " Assessing Evidences for the Evolution of a Human Cognitive Platform for 'Soulish Behaviors"

(Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith v.61, n.3, p.152-174)

Ralph Stearley, Geology, Geography and Environmental Studies Department, Calvin College

 

 

Abstract
During the past one hundred fifty years, a great number of fossil hominid specimens have been unearthed, providing an outline of hominid history extending back five million years. Associated with these hominid fossils are artifacts. Christians and others who have attempted to assess the humanity of these long-dead individuals have focused on evidences of cognition such as cave art, evidences of care given to injured or ill individuals, or burial. However, many more types of evidences as to cognitive abilities in these creatures are available.  Warren Brown has proposed that a cluster of interlinked cognitive capacities were elaborated over the past few million years of hominid history during an "evolutionary trajectory" which, in turn, undergird human "soulish behaviors." These include language, a theory of mind, episodic memory, top-down agency, future orientation, and emotional modulation. This article is an attempt to put traction on Brown's proposal, through detailed examination of the paleoanthropological record. The ability to teach, and thus symbolically and rapidly transmit culture, is suggested as an additional capacity which is part of this cognitive platform. Primary data (anatomy, artifacts) and reliable inferences (based on comparative studies) support a notion of a stage-wise erection of a cognitive platform for soulish behaviors. A few significant, less-understood gaps remain in the cognitive trajectory.
Recordings and related resources
Presentation Slides (first half), Presentation Slides (second half), audio recording

March 30, 2011

"What Augustine Still Has to Teach Us about Human Origins and God's Creating Work"

Laura Smit, Religion Department, Calvin College

 

 

Abstract
In conversations about origins, Augustine is sometimes painted as a fundamentalist in the way he read Scripture (he wasn’t), as someone who corrupted the Hebrew worldview of the Bible with Hellenism (he didn’t), and as the source of a distorted understanding of sin and salvation that needs to be overcome (it needn’t).  Given how central Augustine has been to the development of Christian thought in the west, especially (though by no means exclusively) to the development of the Reformed tradition, we should dig a little deeper and get a fuller understanding of what he actually says about human origins, about human freedom and responsibility, about the nature of sin, about the goodness of creation and the goodness of God.
Recordings and related resources
audio recording

April 6, 2011

"What's Original about Original Sin?  Reading Genesis 1-3 within the Christian Canon"

David Crump, Religion Department, Calvin College

 

 

Abstract
This lecture will attempt to do two things.  First, it will raise questions about the methods being used in our current discussion over how to read the story of Adam and Eve.  For instance, does the accumulation of 'parallels' or 'similarities' between different pieces of literature necessarily lead to solid conclusions about either the historicity or the intentions of the stories themselves?  Second, we will briefly take another look at Genesis 1-3.  The story of Adam and Eve has been interpreted in many ways over the centuries and in modern times. I believe we can find territory in our interpretations which avoids, on the one hand, reading in ways which simply reinforce traditional theological preconceptions, and on the other hand, reading in ways which presuppose some unacceptable rationalistic assumptions.
Recordings and related resources
audio recording

April 8, 2011

"The Doctrine of Creation: Mediated Action and Science"

Robert Bishop, McIntyre Professor of Philosophy and History of Science, Wheaton College

 

 

Abstract
There is a very prevalent line of thinking found in both Christian and non-Christian circles that scientific explanations of natural events must be interpreted as competing with or replacing biblical explanations for such events. Contrary to popular Western culture mythology, this line of thinking is thoroughly modern, arising in the 18th century and refined in the 19th. The historical development of the idea of scientific and biblical explanations as competing takes place at the same time as the biblical doctrine of creation is being gutted. In this talk I will primarily focus on a particular feature of the doctrine of creation in need of recovery for thinking about science: that God’s action in creation is always mediated. I will draw on the idea of mediated action to illustrate how the doctrine of creation provides resources for dispensing with the notion that scientific and biblical explanations are competing, and instead allows us to interpret scientific explanations as consistent with Christianity.
Recordings and related resources
Presentation Slides, audio recording, related paper
Co-sponsors
Calvin College Philosophy Department

April 13, 2011

"What Social and Natural Scientists Need to Know about Evil"

Brian Madison, Religion Department, Calvin College

 

 

Abstract
"Evil" is a term which, in the Christian tradition at least, is properly a "theological" term.  That is to say, "evil" names that which is not consonant with the nature and action of God and therefore must be understood in relation to how Christians understand and speak about God.  Christian theology has traditionally made a distinction between the moral evil perpetrated by personal agents (i.e. "sin") and natural evil which occurs apart from personal agency and intention.  In this presentation I will outline what is meant by "goodness," "supreme goodness, " "evil" and "sin" as theological categories.  Augustine's wrestling with "the problem of evil" will provide some traction as I explore the content of these terms.  Regarding our current discussion on human origins, I will sketch a description of human origins which may entail a closer linkage of moral and natural evil than is often given.
Recordings and related resources
audio recording, handout

April 28, 2011

"What about the cross?"

Suzanne McDonald, Religion Department, Calvin College

 

 

Abstract
One of the questions that has been raised in discussions about human origins concerns the implications of various views on origins for the way that we understand Christ's atoning work on the cross. This lecture aims to help us think about these issues in two ways. First, it will point us to the variety of themes and images found in the New Testament to speak about what is happening on the cross. Along the way, we will see how our confessional documents reflect this range of themes - and we will also see that  theology can sometimes get unhelpfully carried away with one or two of them. Second, while the New Testament gives us a constellation of ways to help us to plumb the depths of the cross, all the various themes and images share some central assumptions about God’s relationship with us and ours with him. These shared assumptions will provide a touchstone for discerning how approaches to the issue of human origins relate to the atonement.
Recordings and related resources
audio recording

April 29, 2011

"The CRC and Human Origins Since Synod 2010"

John Cooper, Professor of Philosophical Theology, Calvin Theological Seminary

 

 

Abstract
This presentation explains the position of the CRC on human origins as modified by the Synod of 2010. (I was an advisor to Synod and advocated for its decision.) Synod 2010 removed the declaration of Synod 1991 that "the uniqueness of humans as image bearers of God rules out the espousal of all theorizing that posits the reality of evolutionary forebears of the human race." But it reaffirmed the other five declarations of 1991, including permissible approaches to Genesis and doctrinal conclusions that are required. Consequently, the CRC position is now open to espousal of evolutionary theories of human ancestors that are consistent with these hermeneutical and doctrinal positions. The presentation outlines some limits and possibilities of the CRC position in relation to current scientific, philosophical, theological, and exegetical views. There will be time for discussion.
Recordings and related resources
audio recording, handout

February 19, 2012

"Evolution and One Christian Biologist: From Eyes Shut Tight to Eyes Open Wide to See God's Greatness"

Arlene J. Hoogewerf, professor of biology, Calvin College

This event was not part of the Human Origins seminar series, but should be of interest to many attenders of these seminars.

Please refer to Church of The Servant's database for additional information. The link is: Church of the Servant Seminars


February 26, 2012

"Evolving Views on Creation and Neo-Darwinian Evolution"

Brian Madison, assistant professor of religion, Calvin College

This event was not part of the Human Origins seminar series, but should be of interest to many attenders of these seminars.

Please refer to Church of The Servant's database for additional information. The link is: Church of the Servant Seminars


March 4, 2012

"Is There a Place for God in a World Governed by Chance?"

James Bradley, emeritus professor of mathematics, Calvin College

This event was not part of the Human Origins seminar series, but should be of interest to many attenders of these seminars.

Please refer to Church of The Servant's database for additional information. The link is: Church of the Servant Seminars


September 6, 2012

"Evolution, Human Origins, Scripture, and the Reformed Confessions"

James K.A. Smith (Philosophy Department, Calvin College) and Loren Haarsma (Physics & Astronomy Department, Calvin College)

Abstract
Loren Haarsma of the Calvin Physics department and Jamie Smith, of the Calvin Philosophy department, report on the state of the conversation about Reformed perspectives on human origins, exploring issues at the intersection of evolution and the Reformed confessions.
Recordings and related resources
Video recording of lecture, Haarsma's handout, audio recording of Q&A time after lecture

October 7, 2012

"Evolution, Christian Faith, and Human Origins"

Jeff Schloss, T.B. Walker Chair of Natural & Behavioral Sciences and director of the Center for Faith, Ethics & Life Sciences, Westmont College 

This event was not part of the Human Origins seminar series, but should be of interest to many attenders of these seminars.

Please refer to Church of The Servant's database for additional information. The link is: Church of the Servant Seminars


October 14. 2012

"Reading the Whole Page"

Christiana de Groot, professor of religion, Calvin College 

This event was not part of the Human Origins seminar series, but should be of interest to many attenders of these seminars.

Please refer to Church of The Servant's database for additional information. The link is: Church of the Servant Seminars


October 28, 2012

"Adam and Eve, the Fall, and Original Sin in Light of Human Evolution"

Dan Harlow, professor of religion, Calvin College

This event was not part of the Human Origins seminar series, but should be of interest to many attenders of these seminars.

Please refer to Church of The Servant's database for additional information. The link is: Church of the Servant Seminars


February 15, 2013, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110

"Created for Everlasting Life: Is Theistic Evolution Sufficient to Explain Original Human Nature?"

John Cooper, Professor of Philosophical Theology, Calvin Theological Seminary.

 

 

Abstract
Christians often endorse theistic evolution or evolutionary creation as the best way of combining science and Scripture to explain God's creation of humans. Scripture teaches that God created humans for everlasting life and receive it through Christ. The transition from life to everlasting life through death and resurrection requires God's supernatural action and a generic person-body dualism sufficient for personal existence beyond one's earthly body. Thus theistic human evolution that is consistent with biblical eschatology must affirm theistic supernaturalism and a minimally dualistic anthropology. I will argue that some current versions of theistic evolution meet these conditions, and some do not – in particular those committed to theistic naturalism and emergent physicalism.
Recordings and related resources
Presentation handout, Audio Recording

April 19, 2013, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 010 (note the room number)

"Origins Today: Genesis Through Ancient Eyes"

 

John Walton, Professor of Old Testament, Wheaton College.

 

Abstract
The rift between faith and science in Christian circles today often results in the marginalization of Christians engaged in the sciences, impediments to evangelism, and the attrition of young believers who are told that Christianity is incompatible with the acceptance of evolution or an old earth. John Walton’s work in Genesis 1–3 offers a fresh perspective on this complex issue by seeking to understand the message of Scripture within its ancient context. A close reading of the Genesis creation account and an evaluation of its ancient Near Eastern setting raise the question of whether the Bible provides modern scientific information related to our understanding of the natural world (e.g., cosmology, biology, or human origins), or whether it offers a theological, rather than material, framework for thinking about the cosmos—for example, God made everything and is sovereign over it. This question in turn leads us to inquire whether today’s scientific conclusions regarding old earth, common descent, and parentage of the human race necessarily conflict with the Bible or theology.
Recordings and related resources
Origins Today link. Audio_recording , Slides

September 16, 2013

"Creation, Design, Evolution, and Human Origins"

 

Loren Haarsma, Physics and Astronomy Department, Calvin College.

 

This event was not part of the Human Origins seminar series, but should be of interest to many attenders of these seminars.

Classis Lake Superior invited Loren Haarsma to make a presentation on origins issues and have an extensive question-and-answer discussion time. Audio recordings made by Classis Lake Superior and made available with their permission.

Recordings and related resources
Audio_recording_1, Audio_recording_2 , Slides