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Archive of seminars related to the "Human Origins seminar series"


The official seminar series on human origins at Calvin College began in fall, 2010. However, some earlier seminars held at Calvin College and which are relevant to this topic are included on this page. 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.


Friday, October 27, 2006, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110.


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


Title:Human Origins:  Scientific Theories and Christian Theologies
     This presentation attempts a general mapping of the various positions on creation and evolution held by Christians.  It identifies three main readings of Genesis 1-3 (literal-historical-theological, literary-historical-theological, and literary-theological), three main theological paradigms of redemptive-history (Augustinian, Neo-platonic, and Modernist), and four theories of human origins (recent creation, progressive creation, biological evolution, anthropological evolution).  The presentation then explores the implications, convergences, and tensions among these positions.  This is the overview I present to students at Calvin Seminary before locating the position taken by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church.  Dialogue and criticism are welcome.

handout_from_speaker


Friday, November 17, 2006, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110.


Speaker: Edward B. Davis, Professor of the History of Science, Messiah College.


Title:Intelligent Design on Trial
     Dr. Davis, who attended the Dover trial and who has published several articles about science and religion in modern America, will provide an overview of the "intelligent design" issue.  He will explain some of the main ideas associated with intelligent design, discuss the political and educational goals and strategies of the intelligent design movement, and comment on the recent Dover School District trial.

audio_recording, power_point_slides


Friday, September 28, 2007, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110.


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


Title:A Classical Christian Emergent Anthropology
     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.

handout, audio_recording.


Friday, October 12, 2007, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 010.


Speaker:Deborah Haarsma and Loren Haarsma, Physics and Astronomy Department, Calvin College.


Title:Origins: A Reformed Look at Creation, Design, and Evolution
     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.  A book reception will follow at 4:15 p.m. in DeVries Hall Atrium.

audio_recording, power_point_slides


May 1, 2009

"Why is there no controversy surrounding theistic embryology? Dissecting critical responses to theistic evolution."

 

Steve Matheson, Biology Department, Calvin College

Abstract
Those who simultaneously express Christian belief and affirm evolutionary theory are said to espouse a position called "theistic evolution." The view holds the peculiar distinction of being reviled by both hard-line creationists (who call it "appeasement") and prominent atheist commentators (who deride it as fallacious). I argue that these critics typically fail to articulate objections that are specific to the view. Most creationist critics of theistic evolution object to one or both of these characteristics of the view: 1) its reliance on naturalistic explanation, a feature common to all scientific theorizing; or 2) its embrace of "random" causal events, a feature common to myriad scientific explanations. Most atheist critics of theistic evolution object to its openness to supernatural explanation, a feature of religious belief in general. Such criticisms, valid or not, fail to address anything specific to theistic evolution. In other words, attacks on theistic evolution are usually attacks on theism or attacks on evolution, but rarely represent specific criticisms of the theistic evolution position. To better understand the controversy surrounding theistic evolution, I propose that critiques of the position be considered in light of a lesser-known position we may (with tongue in cheek) call "theistic embryology." Theistic embryology describes the thinking of those who simultaneously express Christian belief and affirm basic theories in human developmental biology. Although the logic is indistinguishable from that of theistic evolution, the view is uncontroversial and the term "theistic embryology" is practically non-existent. I suggest that critiques of theistic evolution be subjected to the "theistic embryology test." Most critiques that claim to identify weaknesses in theistic evolution make arguments that are equally damaging to "theistic embryology" and so fail the test. Critiques that fail this whimsical test are likely to be arguments against belief, or against naturalistic explanation, and should be considered as such.
Recordings and related resources
Presentation Slides, audio recording

March 12, 2010

"What scientists should know about the doctrine of creation"

 

Brian Madison, Religion Department, Calvin College

Abstract
The contemporary dialogue between theology and the natural sciences tends to proceed uni-directionally: that is to say theologians look to the sciences as providing descriptions of reality which either serve as challenges to traditional theological formulations or as sources for creative theological exploration. This seminar seeks to press the dialogue in the reverse direction by exploring the rich resources of Christian theology regarding the nature of reality, the nature of causation, and the significance of understanding the world as existing in relation to God through the divine activity of creation. Scientists may find such resources helpful and challenging regarding their scientific exploration of a world Christian theology claims is, and describes as, created. Metaphysical, Christological and pneumatological aspects of a doctrine of creation will be addressed in relation to contemporary scientific endeavors.
Recordings and related resources
audio recording1, audio recording2, audio recording3

April 9, 2010

"A Discussion of the Divine Action Project"

 

Jim Bradley, emeritus Mathematics and Statistics Department, Calvin College

Abstract
During the 1990's, a series of five conferences on faith and science were co-sponsored by the Vatican Observatory and the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences in Berkeley. They took God's action in the physical universe as their unifying theme; hence the undertaking came to be known as the Divine Action Project. Participants were scientists and theologians from Protestant and Roman Catholic backgrounds, most of whom held a more or less orthodox view of Christian belief. Each conference produced a significant collection of scholarly papers covering the topics quantum cosmology and the laws of nature, chaos and complexity, evolutionary and molecular biology, neuroscience and the person, and quantum mechanics. This talk will provide a brief sketch of the project illustrated with examples from the chaos and complexity study. Its primary purpose is to initiate a conversation on the subject of God's action in the physical universe.
Recordings and related resources
audio recording1, audio recording2, audio recording3

April 16, 2010

"Philosophical materialism and moral nihilism"

 

Loren Haarsma, Physics and Astronomy Department, Calvin College

Abstract
The natural sciences are often used to support worldviews of philosophical materialism. Some Christians respond by claiming that philosophical materialism logically implies moral nihilism. Often these claims are coupled to arguments that the theory of evolution promotes selfishness and eugenics as "natural goods." This seminar will briefly discuss the oversimplifications of biological evolution behind these claims and ways to disentangle the science of evolution from philosophical materialism, then move on to discuss the broader claim that philosophical materialism implies moral nihilism. Some moral theorists look for a non-theistic basis for objective moral authority in self-evident principles, reason, community, nature, or some combination of those. We'll consider distinctions between reductionist materialisms and emergentist materialisms, and end with a discussion about whether some versions of the argument that philosophical materialism imply moral nihilism rely on such a low view of creation and common grace as to make them problematic for Calvinists. If so, does a high view of creation and common grace suggest a better response to philosophical naturalism?
Recordings and related resources
handout notes, (audio recording not available)
 

April 30, 2010

"Convergence and chance in the construction of the tree of life"

 

Stephen Matheson, Biology Department, Calvin College

Abstract
To what extent has "chance" influenced the outcomes of biological evolution? To some, the unfolding of the tree of life was so strongly contingent on early and seemingly random events that its current forms (which include H. sapiens) could just as likely have been utterly different. To others, the unfolding of the tree of life is characterized by recurrent themes that are so pervasive that its current forms were well-nigh inevitable. We will examine the ideas of the two prominent scientists who have advocated these two divergent views of the nature of evolution. The late Stephen Jay Gould made famous the "rewind the tape" metaphor: according to Gould, if we repeatedly replayed the history of life on earth, it would turn out differently – very differently – each time. Simon Conway Morris has famously emphasized evolutionary convergence, wherein similar designs arise independently during evolution, suggesting a predictable pattern. Two brilliant and accomplished paleontologists and evolutionary biologists, examining the same data, reached apparently opposite conclusions. We will discuss the fossils that formed the focus of Gould's case, look at some examples of convergent evolution that are the basis of Conway Morris's position, and consider the relevance of both sets of ideas in Christian conceptions of an unfolding creation.
Recordings and related resources
audio recording1, audio recording2, audio recording3, audio recording4

 

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March 12, 2010

"What Scientists Should Know About Doctrine of Creation"

Brian Madison, Religion Department, Calvin College

Abstract
The contemporary dialogue between theology and the natural sciences tends to proceed uni-directionally: that is to say theologians look to the sciences as providing descriptions of reality which either serve as challenges to traditional theological formulations or as sources for creative theological exploration. This seminar seeks to press the dialogue in the reverse direction by exploring the rich resources of Christian theology regarding the nature of reality, the nature of causation, and the significance of understanding the world as existing in relation to God through the divine activity of creation. Scientists may find such resources helpful and challenging regarding their scientific exploration of a world Christian theology claims is, and describes as, created. Metaphysical, Christological and pneumatological aspects of a doctrine of creation will be addressed in relation to contemporary scientific endeavors.
Recordings and related resources
Video Recording: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

April 9, 2010

"A Discussion of the Divine Action Project"

Jim Bradley, emeritus Mathematics and Statistics Department, Calvin College

Abstract
During the 1990's, a series of five conferences on faith and science were co-sponsored by the Vatican Observatory and the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences in Berkeley. They took God's action in the physical universe as their unifying theme; hence the undertaking came to be known as the Divine Action Project. Participants were scientists and theologians from Protestant and Roman Catholic backgrounds, most of whom held a more or less orthodox view of Christian belief. Each conference produced a significant collection of scholarly papers covering the topics quantum cosmology and the laws of nature, chaos and complexity, evolutionary and molecular biology, neuroscience and the person, and quantum mechanics. This talk will provide a brief sketch of the project illustrated with examples from the chaos and complexity study. Its primary purpose is to initiate a conversation on the subject of God's action in the physical universe.
Downloads
Video Recording: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

April 16, 2010

"Philosophical Materialism and Moral Nihilism"

Loren Haarsma, Physics and Astronomy Department, Calvin College

Abstract
The natural sciences are often used to support worldviews of philosophical materialism. Some Christians respond by claiming that philosophical materialism logically implies moral nihilism. Often these claims are coupled to arguments that the theory of evolution promotes selfishness and eugenics as "natural goods." This seminar will briefly discuss the oversimplifications of biological evolution behind these claims and ways to disentangle the science of evolution from philosophical materialism, then move on to discuss the broader claim that philosophical materialism implies moral nihilism. Some moral theorists look for a non-theistic basis for objective moral authority in self-evident principles, reason, community, nature, or some combination of those. We'll consider distinctions between reductionist materialisms and emergentist materialisms, and end with a discussion about whether some versions of the argument that philosophical materialism imply moral nihilism rely on such a low view of creation and common grace as to make them problematic for Calvinists. If so, does a high view of creation and common grace suggest a better response to philosophical naturalism?
Downloads
handout/notes
audio recording unavailable

April 30, 2010

"Convergence and chance in the construction of the tree of life"

Stephen Matheson, Biology Department, Calvin College

Abstract
To what extent has "chance" influenced the outcomes of biological evolution? To some, the unfolding of the tree of life was so strongly contingent on early and seemingly random events that its current forms (which include H. sapiens) could just as likely have been utterly different. To others, the unfolding of the tree of life is characterized by recurrent themes that are so pervasive that its current forms were well-nigh inevitable. We will examine the ideas of the two prominent scientists who have advocated these two divergent views of the nature of evolution. The late Stephen Jay Gould made famous the "rewind the tape" metaphor: according to Gould, if we repeatedly replayed the history of life on earth, it would turn out differently – very differently – each time. Simon Conway Morris has famously emphasized evolutionary convergence, wherein similar designs arise independently during evolution, suggesting a predictable pattern. Two brilliant and accomplished paleontologists and evolutionary biologists, examining the same data, reached apparently opposite conclusions. We will discuss the fossils that formed the focus of Gould's case, look at some examples of convergent evolution that are the basis of Conway Morris's position, and consider the relevance of both sets of ideas in Christian conceptions of an unfolding creation.
Downloads
Video Recording: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4