Calvin College

Human Origins Seminar Series
at Calvin College

Sponsored by the Provost's Office
Co-sponsored by the Religion, Philosophy, and History Departments and the Science Division

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 wells 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 email 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.

(This seminar series officially began in fall of 2010; however, some earlier seminars at Calvin College which are relevant to this topic are included on this web page.)


2010-2011 Academic Year Schedule

Date

Title

Speaker

October 8, 2010

   (3:30 p.m.)

   (SB-110)

Scientific and Theological Issues on Human Origins

 

  abstract    powerpoint slides     audio recording (.wma)

Loren Haarsma, Physics and Astronomy Department, Calvin College.

October 15, 2010

   (3:30 p.m.)

(North Hall 157)

Follow-up discussion to "Scientific and Theological Issues on Human Origins"

.

October 20, 2010

   (7:00 p.m.)

   (SB-010)

Evolution and Explanation

 

  abstract     powerpoint slides     handout

          audio recording (.wma)

 

(co-sponsored by Calvin Integrated Sciences Research Institute)

(co-sponsored by Calvin College Biology Department)

Steve Matheson, Biology Department, Calvin College.

November 5, 2010

   (3:30 p.m.)

   (SB-010)

Reading Genesis 2-3 in an Age of Evolutionary Science

 

   abstract      handout        audio recording (.wma)

 

 

 

Daniel Harlow, Religion Department, Calvin College

November 12, 2010

   (3:30 p.m.)

(North Hall 161)

Follow-up discussion to "Reading Genesis 2-3 in an Age of Evolutionary Science"

.

Wednesday

February 9, 2011

     7:00 p.m.

   (SB-010)

 

Those Scary Fossils:  History of Paleoanthropological Discoveries

 

      abstract      slides (pdf)       handout

          audio recording (.wma)   

 

 

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

Friday

  Feb. 11, 2011

     3:30 p.m.

   (SB-010)

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

 

    abstract             powerpoint slides

                 audio recording (.wma) 

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

Thursday

  Feb. 17, 2011

     3:30 p.m.

 (CFAC 107

   Recital Hall)

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

 

    abstract              audio recording (.wma)

            handout/notes/text of talk 

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

Friday

  Feb. 18, 2011

     3:30 p.m.

   (SB-010)

What can Evolutionary Psychology Tell Us about Sin?

 

    abstract                powerpoint slides

                 audio recording (.wma)    

Paul Moes, Psychology Department, Calvin College.

Wednesday

  March 2, 2011

     7:00 p.m.

 (CFAC 107

   Recital Hall)

God, Chance, and Purpose

 

    abstract                 powerpoint slides

                 audio recording (.wma)    

Kelly Clark, Philosophy Department, Calvin College.

Friday

  March 4, 2011

     3:30 p.m.

   (SB-010)

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

 

         abstract                 handout

                 audio recording (.wma) 

 

            1-page summary of implications

Bert deVries, History Department, Calvin College.

Friday

  March 11, 2011

     3:30 p.m.

   (SB-010)

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

 

         abstract                 powerpoint slides

                 audio recording (.wma)  

Frans vanLiere, History Department, Calvin College.

Thursday

  March 17, 2011

     3:30 p.m.

   (NH-161)

 

Discussion of article  "Assessing Evidences for the Evolution of a Human Cognitive Platform for 'Soulish Behaviors' " by Ralph Stearley, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith v.61 n.3 p.152-174.

http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2009/PSCF9-09Stearley.pdf

 

      abstract              audio recording (.wma) 

powerpoint slides (1st half)    overhead slides (2nd half)

       

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

Wednesday

  March 30, 2011

     7:30 p.m.

  (Commons Annex

Lecture Hall)

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

 

         abstract             audio recording (.wma) 

Laura Smit, Religion Department, Calvin College.

Wednesday

  April 6, 2011

     7:00 p.m.

   (SB-010)

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

 

    abstract          text            audio recording (.wma)

David Crump, Religion Department, Calvin College.

Wednesday

  April 13, 2011

     3:30 p.m.

   (SB-010)

What Social and Natural Scientists Need to Know about Evil

 

     abstract        handout         audio recording (.wma)

Brian Madison, Religion Department, Calvin College.

Wednesday

  April 13

     7:30 p.m.*

(CFAC 107

   Recital Hall)

Evolution Matters: Does Evolution Explain Religion?*

 

  (Calvin Philosophy Department:  2011 Jellema Lectures)

Michael Murray, Executive Vice President, Programs & Vice President, Philosophy & Theology, John Templeton Foundation

Thursday

  April 14

     3:30 p.m.*

(CFAC 107

   Recital Hall)

Evolution Matters: Death, Predation, Extinction and ... a Loving Creator?*

 

  (Calvin Philosophy Department:  2011 Jellema Lectures)

Michael Murray, Executive Vice President, Programs & Vice President, Philosophy & Theology, John Templeton Foundation

Thursday

  April 28, 2011

     7:00 p.m.

(CFAC 107

   Recital Hall)

What about the cross?

 

    abstract           text            audio recording (.wma)

Suzanne McDonald, Religion Department, Calvin College.

Friday

  April 29

     3:30 p.m.

   (SB-010)

The CRC and Human Origins Since Synod 2010

 

    abstract         handout         audio recording (.wma)

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

Friday

  May 6

     12:30 p.m.

(Meeter Center

    Lecture Hall)

 

Trinity and Truth: Making Truth Claims in Theology

 

          exerpt from book Trinity and Truth  

 

   book review 1 (Buckley)       book review 2 (Reno) 

 

(sponsored by Calvin College Religion Department)

(co-sponsored by Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship)

 

Bruce Marshall, Professor of Historical Theology, Southern Methodist University.

Friday

  May 6

     3:20 p.m.

(Meeter Center

    Lecture Hall)

Faith and Certainty

 

(sponsored by Calvin College Religion Department)

(co-sponsored by Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship)

 

Bruce Marshall, Professor of Historical Theology, Southern Methodist University.

 

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

 

 

 

 


Previous seminars

Spring 2010 Schedule

Date

Title

Speaker

March 12

   (3:30 p.m.)

   (SB-110)

What Scientists Should Know About the Doctrine of Creation

       abstract          video recording 1 of 3 (.m4v)

                          2 of 3 (.m4v)         3 of 3 (.m4v)

Brian Madison, Religion Department, Calvin College.

April 9

   (3:30 p.m.)

   (SB-110)

A discussion of the  Divine Action Project

       abstract               video recording 1 of 3 (.m4v)

                          2 of 3 (.m4v)         3 of 3 (.m4v)

Jim Bradley, emeritus Mathematics and Statistics Department, Calvin College

April 16

   (3:30 p.m.)

   (SB-110)

Philosophical Materialism and Moral Nihilism                   abstract    

    handout notes         (recording not available)

Loren Haarsma, Physics and Astronomy Department, Calvin College.

April 30

   (3:30 p.m.)

   (SB-010)

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

video recording 1 of 4 (.m4v)    2 of 4    3 of 4    4 of 4

Steve Matheson, Biology Department, Calvin College.

 

Spring 2009 Schedule

Date

Title

Speaker

May 1

   (3:30 p.m.)

   (SB-110)

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

 

   abstract      powerpoint slides    audio recording (.wma)

 

Steve Matheson, Biology Department, Calvin College.

Fall 2007 Schedule

Date

Title

Speaker

September 28

   (3:30 p.m.)

   (SB-110)

A Classical Christian Emergent Anthropology

 

       abstract

        handout                 audio recording (.wma)

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

October 12

   (3:30 p.m.)

   (SB-010)

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

 

       abstract

     powerpoint slides                 audio recording (.wma)

Deborah Haarsma, Physics & Astronomy Department; Loren Haarsma, Physics & Astronomy Department, Calvin College.

Fall 2006

Date

Title

Speaker

October 27

   (3:30 p.m.)

   (SB-110)

Human Origins:  Scientific Theories and Christian Theologies

      abstract                         handout from speaker

   (audio recording unavailable due to technical glitch)

John Cooper, Professor of Philosophical Theology, Calvin Theological Seminary

November 17

   (3:30 p.m.)

   (SB-110)

Intelligent Design on Trial

       abstract                        powerpoint slides

                                           audio recording (.wma)

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


Abstracts


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.


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.


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.


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.  (Read Calvin College’s press release.)


Friday, May 1, 2009, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110.
Speaker: Steve Matheson, Biology Department, Calvin College
Title: Why is there no controversy surrounding theistic embryology?  Dissecting critical responses to theistic evolution.
     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.


Friday, March 12, 2010, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110.
Speaker: Brian Madison, Religion Department, Calvin College
Title: What scientists should know about doctrine of creation
     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.


Friday, April 9, 2010, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110.
Speaker: Jim Bradley, emeritus Mathematics and Statistics Department, Calvin College
Title: A Discussion of the Divine Action Project
     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.


Friday, April 16, 2010, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110.
Speaker: Loren Haarsma, Physics and Astronomy Department, Calvin College
Title: Philosophical materialism and moral nihilism
     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?


Friday, April 30, 2010, 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 010  (note the room number).

Speaker: Stephen Matheson, Biology Department, Calvin College
Title: Convergence and chance in the construction of the tree of life
     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.


Friday, October 8, 2010; 3:30 p.m. in Science Building room 110.
Speaker: Loren Haarsma, Physics and Astronomy Department, Calvin College
Title: Scientific and Theological Issues on Human Origins
     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.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010; 7:00 p.m. in Science Building basement room 010.
Speaker: Steve Matheson, Biology Department, Calvin College
Title: Evolution and Explanation
     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.


Friday, November 5, 2010; 3:30 p.m. in Science Building basement room 010.
Speaker: Daniel Harlow, Religion Department, Calvin College
Title: Reading Genesis 2-3 in an Age of Evolutionary Science
     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.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011; 7:00 p.m. in Science Building basement room 010.
Speaker: Ralph Stearley, Geology, Geography and Environmental Studies Department, Calvin College.
Title: Those Scary Fossils:  History of Paleoanthropological Discoveries
     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.


Friday, February 11, 2011; 3:30 p.m. in room To Be Announced.
Speaker: David N. Livingstone, Professor of Geography & Intellectual History, Queen's University Belfast.
Title: ADAM’S  BLOODLINE : Genesis, Race and Human Origins
     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.


Thursday, February 17, 2011; 3:30 p.m. in CFAC-107 (Recital Hall).
Speaker: James K.A. Smith, Philosophy Department, Calvin College.
Title: Evolution and the Fall: Clarifying the Issues, Imagining the Possibilities
     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.


Friday, February 18, 2011; 3:30 p.m. in Science Building basement room 010.
Speaker: Paul Moes, Psychology Department, Calvin College.
Title: What can Evolutionary Psychology Tell Us about Sin?
     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.


Thursday, March 2, 2011; 3:30 p.m. in CFAC-107 (Recital Hall).
Speaker: Kelly Clark, Philosophy Department, Calvin College.
Title: God, Chance, and Purpose
     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.


Friday, March 4, 2011; 3:30 p.m. in Science Building basement room 010.
Speaker: Bert deVries, History Department, Calvin College.
Title: A Historian's Approach to Ancient Stories of Human Origin and Cosmic Structure
     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.


Friday, March 11, 2011; 3:30 p.m. in Science Building basement room 010.
Speaker: Frans vanLiere, History Department, Calvin College.
Title: "Tell me: How long did Adam dwell in Paradise?"  Traditions of reading sacred texts in the light of modern biblical criticism.
     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?


Thursday, March 17, 2011; 3:30 p.m. in North Hall room 161.
Speaker: Ralph Stearley, Geology, Geography and Environmental Studies Department, Calvin College.
Title: A discussion on the article, " Assessing Evidences for the Evolution of a Human Cognitive Platform for 'Soulish Behaviors'"
     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.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011; 7:30 p.m. in Commons Annex Lecture Hall.
Speaker: Laura Smit, Religion Department, Calvin College.
Title: What Augustine Still Has to Teach Us about Human Origins and God's Creating Work
     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.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011; 7:00 p.m. in Science Building basement room 010
Speaker: David Crump, Religion Department, Calvin College.
Title: What's Original about Original Sin?  Reading Genesis 1-3 within the Christian Canon
     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.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011; 3:30 p.m. in Science Building basement room 010
Speaker: Brian Madison, Religion Department, Calvin College.
Title: What Social and Natural Scientists Need to Know about Evil
     "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.


Thursday, April 28, 2011; 7:00 p.m. in CFAC-107 (Recital Hall)
Speaker: Suzanne McDonald, Religion Department, Calvin College.
Title: What about the cross?
     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.


Friday, April 29, 2011; 3:30 p.m. in Science Building basement room 010.
Speaker: John Cooper, Professor of Philosophical Theology, Calvin Theological Seminary.
Title: The CRC and Human Origins Since Synod 2010
     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.


Last updated April 29, 2011