American Scientific Affiliation 2019 Meeting, “Exploring Creation”

The American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) is an organization of evangelical Christians who are degreed scientists and who gather to discuss how their science and their faith interact. I have posted summaries of annual meetings for some past years: 2015, 2016 (emphasis on mind/brain issues), and 2018.

The 2019 annual meeting of the ASA was held in late July at Wheaton College, located west of Chicago. The stated theme of the meeting was “Exploring Creation.” In addition to talks dealing with some of the perennial issues of relating faith and science, there were some specific tracks dealing with teaching faith and science in various venues (college, high school, church), dealing with digital technology, and dealing with sustainability, climate change, and other “creation care” topics.

A list, by speaker name, of all the talks, with titles and links to abstracts (click on “Details” to see abstracts) is here. That page has links to YouTube videos of the plenary talks, along with slides and audio for some other talks. I will also link directly to these YouTube videos in my descriptions below.  A pdf file of the program schedule, with the talks grouped by topics and in chronological order, and with abstracts shown, is here.

I will summarize here a number of presentations that I attended, which I have grouped into the categories below.

Contents

Plenary Talks

Deborah Haarsma,   “Exploring Many Worlds”

James L. Sherley, “Living a Scientist’s Life”

Kenneth R. Miller, “Darwin, God, and Design: Grandeur in an Evolutionary View of Life”

Gerald Gabrielse, “God Decides, We Measure”

Gayle E. Woloschak, “Perspectives on Life and Creation”

Jennifer Powell McNutt, “The Mirror of Creation: An Unfailing Witness in Scripture and in the Theology of John Calvin”

Science as Understanding God’s Creation

Teaching Faith and Science in Church, College, and Cyberspace

Biblical Models for Creation

Digital Technology

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^

Plenary Talks

Deborah Haarsma,   “Exploring Many Worlds

Calvin College physicist Deborah Haarsma is currently president of Biologos. She speaks here of how we understand Christ to be the Creator of our universe, which we now understand to have trillions of planets. In particular, what would intelligent life on other planets mean for our understanding of Christ as our Incarnate Savior?

She shared some interesting space finds, including an image of the emissions in vicinity of a black hole (at 10 minutes into the video). At 31 minutes she showed the figure below, noting that measurements/modeling now have the sensitivity to firmly estimate that there are billions of planets with conditions much like earth’s.

Screenshot from Deborah Haarsma, “Exploring Many Worlds”. talk at ASA 2019 Annual Meeting.

Considering that life on earth appeared relatively soon (say 500 million years) after the earth cooled enough to have liquid water, many scientists consider it likely that some of those other planets harbor life as well. However, we still have little understanding of how life actually arose on earth, and it took another 3.5 billion years or so for intelligent life to appear on earth. So this is all fairly conjectural. (Deborah noted parenthetically that science fiction films tend to minimize the likely difficulties in translation should we actually encounter intelligent aliens). She offered various perspectives on the intersection of faith and science, including highlighting ways in which Christian faith can ground scientific investigation, and how scientific discoveries can inspire deepened appreciation for God’s creation.

James L. Sherley, “Living a Scientist’s Life

James L. Sherley is the founder and director of Massachusetts stem cell biotechnology company Asymmetrex, LLC. Asymmetrex develops and markets technologies for advancing stem cell medicine, including the first-in-kind technology for specific counting of adult tissue stem cells. James has a joint MD/PhD, and has held academic appointments at Fox Chase Cancer Center, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Boston Biomedical Research Institute. He shared many aspects of his life as a scientist, including barriers that he and other African-Americans in science have encountered and continue to encounter. He also noted the difficulties faced by Christians if they publically acknowledge their faith, since their credibility as scientists may immediately become suspect. He suggested identifying with some larger Christian group (e.g. ASA) as opposed to trying to explain your individual beliefs. He also encouraged believers to try opening up in private with some of their colleagues – – there is of course the risk of rejection and ridicule, but also the potential for fruitful dialog.

 

Kenneth R. Miller, “Darwin, God, and Design: Grandeur in an Evolutionary View of Life”

Ken Miller is professor of biology at Brown University, co-author of widely-used biology textbooks, and author of several popular books, including Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution and The Human Instinct: How We Evolved to Have Reason, Consciousness, and Free Will. In 2005 he served as lead witness in the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial on evolution and intelligent design in Pennsylvania.

Among other things, he gave a historical perspective on the struggle over teaching evolution and intelligent design in public schools. The common perception of the 1925 Scopes trial in Tennessee tends to be colored by the play/movie Inherit the Wind, where it seems that the anti-evolution side is disgraced and the pro-evolution side is vindicated. The reality is that the Scopes trial upheld the state’s ban on teaching evolution, and teaching evolution remained outlawed in six southern states for another forty years. The really impactful case was a suit brought against the state of Arkansas in 1965 by a young teacher named Susan Epperson in Little Rock. She eventually appealed this case to the U.S. Supreme Court, where she prevailed.

Ken shared anecdotes from the 2005 Dover trial, and highlighted some key pieces of evidence for evolution he presented. For instance, humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes (46 total) whereas other great apes (chimps, gorillas, orangutans) have 24 pairs. Evolutionary theory predicts that at some point in the human-specific lineage, two chromosomes must have fused into a single one. Since chromosomes have distinctive regions containing telomere sequences at both ends, at the site of a fusion between two chromosomes one should find these distinctive sequences. [1]

With the advent of DNA sequencing, this dramatic and specific prediction was verified:

Screen shot from Kenneth Miller, “Darwin, God, and Design: Grandeur in an Evolutionary View of Life”, talk at 2019 ASA meeting. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-B3Xcqbn84 . Shows fusion site of two chromosomes in human chromosome 2, with distinctive telomere elements. At the top are shown the corresponding chromosomes in the chimpanzee and orangutan genomes.

 

Ken offered a number of observations on the compatibility of religious faith and science, and on how the harsh aspects of evolution like death and differential survival are (in the natural world we live in) essential to life and development. Richard Dawkins’s famous atheistic take on evolution is, “The [Darwinian] universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference”. Ken looks at the same phenomena from a theistic perspective: “The [Darwinian] universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, the wisdom of a provident and purposeful God, intent upon a fruitful and dynamic world, and committed to a promise of human freedom.”

 

Gerald Gabrielse, “God Decides, We Measure

Gerald Gabrielse is a leader in super-precise measurements of fundamental particles and the study of anti-matter. He formerly chaired the Harvard University physics department, and is now director of the Center for Fundamental Physics at Northwestern University. In this talk he offered observations on a number of science and faith topics. He described how he and his students isolated and maintained a single electron for many months, in order to make precise measurements of its properties in a strong magnetic field. Some other remarks (from my notes, not exact quotes):

He draws insights regarding God and creation from the book of Job. This is an epic tale of suffering and redemption. It has much to say about how involved God is with his creation, and how pleased he is with it.     The God who is responsible for our complex universe must be more complicated than we can hope to understand.

From science alone, we cannot conclude whether God exists or not. As Calvin noted, the Bible is like a pair of eyeglasses by which we can see the God who is behind the science.

When Moses asked God what his name was, the reply was, “I am who I am.” Not just a greater Pharaoh or other super-human, but beyond human categories.

Christians who argue over the details of the Genesis creation story are missing the whole point of it, which is that everything came into being because God willed it.

In physics, there is much we do not understand, but that does not justify abandoning science. Similarly, there is much we do not understand in Biblical teachings, like how God became a man or how Jesus’s death can lead to my eternal life.

No contradiction between doing science and praying. A God worth having is so unlimited that we can seek his help in ways that science cannot comprehend.

Everyone has faith in something ultimate, has some underlying assumptions. If you are in disagreement with someone, it helps to identify those assumptions and God-substitutes.

 

Gayle E. Woloschak, “Perspectives on Life and Creation

Gayle E. Woloschak is a professor of Radiation Oncology, Radiology, and Cell and Molecular Biology in the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. In this talk she brings insights particularly from her Eastern Orthodox tradition. She included the slide below with a classic statement and title by the (Orthodox) evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dhobzhansky. This 1973 statement notes that the evidence clearly demonstrates that present-day organisms developed via evolution, even though the details of the evolutionary mechanisms are not fully understood.

From 1973 Theodosius Dobzhansky article. Screenshot from Gayle Woloschak, “Perspectives on Life and Creation”, at ASA 2019 Annual Meeting.

 

I thought the slide below was also interesting. It illustrates some of the inferred gene duplication events which gave rise to bone formation in the vertebrate line (the Sarcopterygiana at the bottom here are the ancestors of tetrapods, including us mammals):

Gene duplication events during vertebrate bone evolution. Screenshot from Gayle Woloschak, “Perspectives on Life and Creation”, at ASA 2019 Annual Meeting.

Gayle noted that humans pass along a cultural heritage as well as a genetic heritage. Cultural evolution for us has in some ways transcended biological evolution, being swifter and more effective. For instance, it took birds millions of years to develop wings for effective flight, whereas humans invented airplanes in much less time. As with other speakers here, she noted that the life/death cycle is required for evolutionary progress. She also described some strong links between being cognizant of evolution and appreciating ecology.

Humans share elements with the earth, and share genes and metabolic pathways with other species, yet we are unique. We are the part of the creation that contemplates. Humans are both earthly and heavenly, both material and spiritual. As St. John Chrysostom said, our human task is to be “the bond and bridge of God’s creation.”

 

Jennifer Powell McNutt, “The Mirror of Creation: An Unfailing Witness in Scripture and in the Theology of John Calvin

Jennifer McNutt is professor of Theology and History of Christianity at Wheaton College, and a Fellow in the Royal Historical Society. She started by noting the significant religious dimension to the Apollo moon exploration program. The Christmas Eve reading from Genesis 1 on Apollo 8, looking back at the earth from space, was the most widely-viewed broadcast of its time. Lunar astronauts were allowed to take a small “Personal Preference Kit”, and NASA made a 1.5 inch x 1.5 inch (3.8 x 3.8 cm) microfiche version of the whole Bible for the purpose. On the Apollo 11 mission, Buzz Aldrin read from Psalm 8 upon landing, but that was not broadcast by NASA due to a lawsuit over the Apollo 8 reading. Also, one of the first things Aldrin did was to take communion from the blessed elements he brought. This was the first meal ever eaten on the moon. To my knowledge, these religious features were all scrubbed from the movie First Man.

Per the title of her talk, Jennifer discussed John Calvin’s theological outlook on the physical world. Calvin encouraged study of astronomy and medicine, and emphasized the importance of “delighting” in creation. To meditate on God’s work in nature is a key part of a Christian’s devotional life. According to Psalm 19 (“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands…”) creation is not merely a passive object to be studied, but an active agent of revelation to all peoples of all times. In providing this revelation in nature, the Creator stoops to accommodate our limitations. Creation does not fail to give its witness; if we fail to perceive it, the fault lies in us.

Calvin likened the revelation in creation to a view in a mirror. In his day mirrors were made of polished metal or glass. These mirrors gave much information, but they did not reflect a clear, complete image. In his 145th (!) sermon on Job, Calvin said that God offers us creation as a mirror so we can better contemplate his power and wisdom. However, creation can only reveal a fraction of what we need to know about God. The Scriptures, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, give a truer, clearer revelation of the redemptive purposes of God. Although God is the Creator and we are part of creation, he is free to bridge the gap between us and he chooses to do so.

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^

Science as Understanding God’s Creation

Seth Hart, “The Fifth Way: Teleological Language in Biology and a Thomistic Natural Theology”

Teleology is an explanation for something as a function of its end, purpose, or goal. In the twentieth century, defenses of the use of teleological language in biology appeared from scientists as Francisco Ayala and Ernst Mayr. For instance, if you understand everything about each atoms in a bird’s wing, including their relative positions and bonds, but that is all you know, you are missing some key understanding. You also need to know the function of the wing, i.e. what the wing is “for” (Aristotle’s “final” cause”). To grasp that function, you need to understand something of what the whole bird is.

It is argued that thinking in terms of teleology is useful in framing experiments (e.g. some systems like those in cells must be understood as functioning in unison), in natural selection (selecting for traits that are suited to a particular purpose), and in understanding what a species is (based on shared essences). These considerations led Georg Toepfer to declare that “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of teleology”. The appropriateness of such language has been debated. The biologist J. B. S. Haldane observed that “Teleology is like a mistress to a biologist: he cannot live without her but he’s unwilling to be seen with her in public.”   The speaker suggested that the existence of natural teleology in biology may provide evidential support for the fifth of St. Thomas Aquinas’s Five Ways of understanding or demonstrating God. [2]

 

Jonathan Bryan, “Sacramental Principle in the Science-Faith Dialogue”

From the Abstract for this talk:   The nature of divine action in the cosmos remains a central question in the science-faith dialogue. Some would restrict divine quantum uncertainties or chaotic systems, or the transmission of pure information. Others propose dual agency (carpenter-hammer), panentheism (nature inseparable from divine presence and action), or the world as God’s body (divine action analogous to mental activity). In all cases, the nature of the interaction between divine initiative and the material (the “causal joint”) is inherently, and necessarily unknowable. This is inescapable so long as we believe in a transcendent Creator who, no matter how related or attached to nature, is nonetheless truly other than the material creation, and so beyond the conceptual reach of any scientific assay. Divine action cannot be articulated in scientific categories.

This ontological gap between matter and spirit does not mean they are unrelated. Their relation may be approximated by the theological concept of the sacred or sacramental, in which otherwise natural phenomena (objects, places, actions, words) “participate in a reality that transcends them.” They possess additional meaning and dimension that is inseparable from them. By the sacramental principle, we understand nature as more than mere matter, or the complexities and effects of matter. A sacramental understanding invites us to begin the radical project of truly integrating science and faith. We illustrate with a consideration of biblical pneumatology and the nature of life [connection spirit, life, breath, cf. Acts 17:25, Ps. 33:6, Ps. 104], the cruciform fabric of the ecosphere, and the sacramental implications of the Incarnation for Creation. [end Abstract]

Sacred objects or actions carry hidden meanings. For instance, with the Eucharistic bread and wine, the sacred aspect cannot be seen physically.  Sacred things do not merely represent the deeper reality in a symbolic way, but actually participate in that deeper reality.

Some more remarks from the talk, on the “cruciform fabric of the ecosphere”: This notion may help us come to terms with death. There is a necessity of sacrificial death for life at many levels of reality. For instance, the death of stars produces the elements for life. The seed falls into the ground and becomes no longer a seed, to bring forth a new plant and many more seeds. And in the words of Jesus, “If you lose your life, you will gain it.”

Ronald T. Myers, “Physical Basis of Fine Tuning”

First, a little background. According to Wikipedia, the “Standard Model” for particle physics, which describes the material world at very small scales, has 25 fundamental particles (counting 8 types of gluons and two different W bosons), whose properties and interactions are described by 19 parameters, such as the masses of the electron and other particles and various coupling or mixing parameters. The values of these parameters for our universe can be determined experimentally. Extensions of the Standard Model with massive neutrinos need 7 more parameters, for a total of 26 parameters. For describing things on an astronomical scale, the main current cosmology model (Lambda-SDM) has six independent parameters (physical baryon density parameter; physical dark matter density parameter; the age of the universe; scalar spectral index; curvature fluctuation amplitude; and reionization optical depth).

Some of these parameters can be combined to form dimensionless ratios, such as the proton-to-electron mass ratio, or the “fine structure constant” (square of the electron charge, expressed in Planck units). Martin Rees, in his book Just Six Numbers, discussed six dimensionless constants, whose values he deemed fundamental to physical theory and the structure of the universe.

This talk addressed the Fine Tuning argument for faith in God. The argument goes something like this: for a number of physical constants or parameters, a wide range of values is theoretically possible. However, stable matter capable of supporting advanced life-forms is only possible if these parameters have values within certain narrow (in some cases exceedingly narrow) ranges. Although it would be vastly improbable for a randomly assigned set of values to all fall within these ranges, these parameters do in fact have these values. This remarkable fact has been remarked on by a number of scientists, leading to various formulations of the “anthropic principle”. Many scientists shrug and say, “Well, that’s just the way it is; if these parameters didn’t have these values, we would not be here.” Some theists, however, argue that this casual dismissal is premature, and that the cosmic fine-tuning is evidence that the universe has been intelligently designed to support intelligent life. Theists also note that the earth has particular characteristics conducive to the development of advanced life (medium distance from a stable sun, etc.). This line of reasoning is popular with Christian lay people, being fairly easy to comprehend, but it is important to be accurate on the science involved.

Ronald Myers addressed some of these issues in his talk. He did not address the nature of the underlying physical laws themselves. Also, he did not much discuss the impact of the multiverse concept. [3] He dismissed considerations of the “local” conditions that make our earth conducive to life – – given that many of the 10^22 (where “^” denotes exponent) stars in our universe will have planets around them, it seems likely that many other planets exist with conditions similar to those of earth.

He primarily looked at what ranges of certain parameters are required in order to support advanced life. The literature of the last ten years suggests the allowable ranges on some parameters are wider than previously thought, if we take into account alternative nucleosynthetic paths for making biophilic elements.   He concluded:

(a) Use of dimensionality of space remains a strong apologetic [i.e. the existence of three space dimensions and one time dimension does seem essential to life].

(b) Proton-neutron and electron-proton mass ratios are weak apologetics [because the allowable electron-proton ratio has an allowable range of 10^4, and the proton-neutron ratio has only a lower bound].

(c) Constraints on the electromagnetic constant need to be re- examined and therefore should not now be used as an apologetic.

(d) Constraints on strong and weak force leading to stars and biophilic elements have been significantly weakened (i.e., now broader), making them unusable for an apologetic for fine tuning.

He added some general comments on the theological use of fine-tuning arguments:

– Fine tuning is an argument from improbability.
– The determination of the state of being fine-tuned and improbable seems to be based more on intuition then on any objective criteria.
– Percentage of parameter space is not useful since parameters go to infinity so any finite range is an infinitesimal portion of the available parameter space.
– So is God at work in 1/10^9 or 1/10^29 or 1/10^129 or 1/infinity ?
– Without objective answers to this, all fine tuning apologetics are tentative.

In the Q&A session, he added another caveat – – the cosmological constant seems so very tightly constrained that it is likely that something else is constraining it, i.e. that it is not really an independent parameter.

 

Adam Wright, “Explore Material Creation on Its Terms and the Creator on His Terms: The Confusion behind Sean Carroll’s Scientific Investigation of God’s Existence”

Theoretical physicist Sean Carroll has tried to make the case that naturalistic models account for the world we observe better than theistic models. In this presentation Adam Wright explains Carroll’s methodology, including the formal Bayesian formulation of abductive reasoning he uses. Carroll’s strategy is to list features of the world that he thinks should exist if God created the world, and then point to the lack of these features.   These “expected” features include: no evil or suffering; frequent miracles; all religions independently reach the same conclusions; the cosmos only contains what’s necessary for human life (e.g. not billions of galaxies); spirits of those long dead visit often (ghosts); each person’s happiness in this life is proportional to their moral virtue; and so on.

The presentation notes some fundamental flaws in Carroll’s methodology. Scientific methods are designed to strip the human element from the truth-seeking process, limiting its scope to the objective and non-personal material world. This is appropriate for investigating material creation, since it is tangible, unsurprising (i.e. reproducible), and subject to our manipulation, which makes observation, prediction, and replicable experimentation possible. Conversely, God the creator is invisible, personal, and inscrutable, making science an ill-suited tool for investigating the God hypothesis. Science is successful precisely because it explores material creation on its own terms. However, God must be sought on his own terms, by personal relationship and revelation.[4]

(I would add: How does Carroll know that God would prevent all evil or suffering, or would create only physical matter which is necessary for human life, or would rigorously reward virtue in this life, or would promote visitations by ghosts? In many of these criteria it seems to me that Carroll has rigged the game by smuggling in a naturalistic worldview which takes no proper account of an eternal afterlife. In fact, the Bible explicitly or implicitly teaches against many of Carroll’s theistic “expectations”: Jesus stated that there would be (at least as a general rule) no miraculous “signs” for unbelievers beyond his resurrection, and the whole New Testament teaches that virtue will be rewarded and evil will be judged in the next life but typically not in this life. )

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^

Teaching Faith and Science in Church, College, and Cyberspace

Dale Gentry, “Education in the Twenty-First Century: Addressing the Intersection of Science and Faith on YouTube”

Dale noted that there are many books dealing with the integration of science and faith, but these rarely percolate down to the typical person in the pew. He noticed that his students often go to YouTube first, as a quick, often reliable source of information. There are many good YouTube channels on science, economics, arts, etc. But he did not find one that consistently addressed faith/science issues. If we can’t talk about God as an answer to scientific questions, maybe we can’t talk about God as the answer to any question. He found a model for communication in The Bible Project. The videos on this YouTube channel consists mainly of snappy 4-7 minute dialogs, with animated illustrations, that give an overview of a section of Scripture or treat some concept like justice or exile or biblical poetry. These videos have been very successful in engaging people in thinking about theological issues. [Per article in April, 2019 Christianity Today, “Sixty-four percent of viewers are men, most aged 18-34 – a demographic often dismissed as being disconnected from faith”]. Dale plans to produce a set of animated videos formatted similar to The Bible Project, dealing with faith/science issues that may be of interest especially to younger viewers. Initial topics will be evolution and ecology, to be followed by human biology, the brain, and cosmology.

He has formed a nonprofit organization, Disciple Science, to accomplish this using crowdsourcing for raising funds to pay the animators. He also plans for a weekly podcast, a blog, and study materials, which might be used in Sunday school classes. Videos will be aimed initially at the adult level, with the possibility of later retooling them for younger age groups. The approach will be more education and advocacy than trying to prove God by science (apologetics). All truth is God’s truth, so there should be no conflicts if texts and facts are interpreted correctly. He aims to avoid false dichotomies (e.g. miracles OR natural processes, reason OR imagination, causality OR meaning) and push back on humanistic idolatry of science as the complete hope for the world. Science is the study of how God works – – perhaps using occasional miracles but mainly through intelligible processes. Just because a consistent scientific explanation is available does not mean God is not involved. Thus, faith does not lead to passivity: God works through secondary causes, and we humans are “secondary causes”….so if we see a problem, we should act!

 

Jason Lief and Sara Sybesma Tolsma, “Jesus Loves You and Evolution Is True”

Current research shows young people abandoning institutional forms of religion, and suggests that a part of this phenomena is the disconnect they perceive between contemporary science and faith. Thus, youth ministry must provide young people the opportunity to explore the relationship between Christian faith and the faithful engagement of the created world through science.

There are transversal spaces where biology and theology overlap, allowing important conversations about what it means to be made in the image of God, and what the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ means for the embodied, lived experiences of young people. This dialogue between biology and theology provides insight into issues facing youth ministry, such as sexuality, anxiety, cutting, and identity formation.

The presentation focused on the primary thesis of their work: the theological engagement of evolutionary theory from the vantage point of the incarnation provides an opportunity for the Christian community to reclaim an embodied view of salvation as the foundation for an embodied eschatological vision for human identity.

Some further thoughts presented on these topics:

Evolutionary theory presents creation as a work that is still in progress.

God’s creation shows the goodness of embodiment – God loves material stuff.

“Imperfection” can be redefined as opportunity.

Evolution points to our connectedness with the rest of creation – – we depend on it, have the same genetic code, etc. This gives motivation toward responsible action regarding climate change, race, and justice.

Evolution reframes suffering and death – -death paves the way for flourishing.

The cross depicts God’s love as sacrificial suffering, a death that makes room for our flourishing.

For today’s youth there is no longer much in the way of sacred spaces (e.g. hallowed church buildings); they find transcendence more in experiences, such as a rock concert. Some facet of science might be for them a transcendent experience.

Evolution can inform us how to live, helping us to embrace being the finite, embodied image of God.

Denis Lamoureux, “Online Science and Religion Materials for High School Students

In this session, Denis introduced two sets of online materials intended to assist high school students from stumbling over science, and in particular, evolution. The first set is a 4-hour series of 5 lectures with handouts and class discussions ( https://sites.ualberta.ca/~dlamoure/wlhs.html ). He presents a range of possible positions on creation and evolution, and discusses principles for Bible interpretation, intelligent design, and the thinking of Galileo and Darwin. Handouts and discussion templates are provided for all five lectures. These lectures have been successful in Roman Catholic schools over the last 8 years.

The second set is an 11-hour introductory course on Science and Religion with 100 pages of notes, 100 pages of handouts, and 25 class discussions. Topics include Models for Relating Science and Religion, Scientific Evidence for Evolution, Intelligent Design in Nature, Galileo’s Religious Beliefs, Darwin’s Religious Beliefs, Interpretations of the Biblical Creation Accounts in Genesis 1–3, and the Modern “Evolution” vs. “Creation” Debate ( https://sites.ualberta.ca/~dlamoure/150homepage.html ). Denis has found that an efficient use of class time is to have the students watch the lectures at their own pace, before the class, so the class time can be used for discussion or other interactive activities (a “flipped classroom” format [5] ).

In addition to making all this material available on-line, Denis is willing to hold a remote discussion with church or other groups; the expectation is that the members of the group would watch one of his on-line lectures, then Denis would call in to moderate a discussion on the subject. Denis has authored a number of books in this area. The one he recommends for high schoolers is Evolution: Scripture and Science Say Yes. Here are some quotes Denis shared regarding compatibility and conflict between evolution and Christian faith:

“The number one reason young Christians leave the faith is the conflict between science and faith, and that conflict can be narrowed to the conflict between evolutionary theory and human origins as traditionally read in Genesis 1–2.” – Scot McKnight, in his co-authored book with Dennis Venema, Adam and the Genome (2017)

“It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist and an evolutionist. … I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God.” – Charles Darwin, letter to John Fordyce, May 7, 1879.

 

Luke J. Janssen, “The Bible Tells Me Otherwise; Besides Even Scientists Don’t Believe This Stuff, and It’s Not My Problem Anyway”

Results were presented which show a large gap between the views of many evangelicals and those of practicing scientists. In 2014 the Pew Research Center surveyed members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). 98% of those surveyed agreed that human and other living things have evolved over time (either with or without divine guidance), as opposed to having existed in their present forms since the beginning of time. For working PhD scientists and active research scientists, 99% held to evolution, and only 1% believed that living things existed as-is from the beginning.

Among the general U.S. adult population, 31% held that living things existed as is from the beginning (i.e. reject evolution). Among religious subgroups, rejection of evolution was highest (60%) among white evangelical Protestants. People in the general population tended to grossly overestimate the degree to which scientists are “divided” over issues like evolution and the Big Bang, as opposed to “generally agree”.   29% of U.S. adults (and 49% of white evangelical Protestants) held that scientists are “divided” over evolution, whereas, as noted above, only 1-2% reject evolution. Similarly, 52% of Americans believe that scientists are “divided” over the Big Bang origin of the universe, which again is not so.

Some 59% of Americans agree that religion and science are “often in conflict”. The perception of such conflict is even higher (73%) among those who seldom or never attend a religious service. This perception of conflict is a significant factor for people leaving the church or who might otherwise consider Christianity. In a different poll, a common answer (54%) to the questions of why you left the Christian faith or what is the greatest obstacle to belief in the Christian God was, “Christian teachings that conflict with the findings of modern science”.

The Barna Group surveyed 1296 people who attended church in their teens but later left the church. Here are some of the answers given to the question “Why did you stop going to church?” :

“Churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%)

“Christianity is anti-science” (25%)

“been turned off by creation-vs-evolution debate” (23%)

The Barna Group commented:

“The problem arises from the inadequacy of preparing young Christians for life beyond youth group… Only a small minority of young Christians has been taught to think about matters of faith, calling, and culture

… The university setting does not usually cause the disconnect; it exposes the shallow-faith problem of many young disciples. [6]

… Much of the ministry to teenagers in America needs an overhaul, not because churches fail to attract significant numbers of young people, but because so much of those efforts are not creating a sustainable faith beyond high school.”

The presentation closed with a slide contrasting the trajectory of humanity according to traditional views of the Fall, versus the picture that emerges from examination of the physical evidence for evolution. In the first view, humanity started off perfect, and has only gone downhill. The physical evidence indicates, however, that the capabilities for higher functions such as language, abstract thought, and moral reasoning have developed gradually over millions of years, so the human lineage has been on a net upward trajectory. In this view, humans may be viewed, not as fallen from some earlier perfection, but as having “missed the target” or “fallen short” of the ultimate, full potential God has in mind for us. [7]

 

Faith Tucker Stults, “Cosmology & Contact in the High School Classroom”

[I did not attend this session, but the Abstract seems worth sharing:]

Many students from Christian backgrounds feel that some consensus scientific theories— such as evolution, Big Bang cosmology, and climate change— are in conflict with their Christian faith. These students are likely to feel they must choose between science or faith, resulting in either a loss of faith or a loss of scientific engagement. My desire to relieve students from this unnecessary choice led me to work in Christian education. For the last five years, I have taught high school physics and astronomy at an interdenominational Christian high school in the San Francisco Bay Area.

In this presentation, I will share two projects that I use to help students think critically about science and faith. In my astronomy class, our unit on cosmology carefully weaves together the nature of science and faith, the history of cosmology, and evidence for Big Bang cosmology. Throughout the unit, students write a series of personal journals to reflect on what they are learning.

In my physics class, the students watch the movie Contact (1997) and respond to a variety of science and faith related prompts through art, creative writing, essays, or other formats. These responses then lay a groundwork for an extended class discussion on the relationship between science and faith. These projects are consistently among my students’ favorite parts of the courses and have been beneficial tools in helping Christian students better understand the methods, motivations, and claims of science, and in relieving their sense of conflict with their religious beliefs.

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^

Biblical Models for Creation

 

Joel Duff and Gregg Davidson, “Young-Earth Evolutionists? Adaptation of Young Earth Creationist Models, and Implications for the Church”

This presentation pointed out a disconnect between what leading Young Earth (YE) creationists are now saying about the number and types of animals on Noah’s Ark, and the traditional, straightforward interpretation of the biblical account. A key Bible passages is:

On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark.   They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings.   Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark.   The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah.   (Gen 7:13-16a)

Conservative Christians have long taken this to mean that one pair of every air-breathing terrestrial species was taken on board the Ark. For instance, two lions, two tigers, two jaguars, two cheetahs, and so on. However, there are some 33,000 living species of such land-dwelling, air-breathing animals, and an estimated 200,000 such species if now-extinct species are included. YE creationists have in recent decades acknowledged that in terms of space on the Ark and logistics of caring for all of them, it would not have been possible for Noah and his family to have hosted that many animals.

A response of YE creationist thinkers has been to claim that only a relatively small number of “kinds” of animals were originally created, and only one pair of each “kind” was taken aboard the Ark. After the Flood, each “kind” very rapidly differentiated and evolved into the many thousands of now-identified species. One YE creationist proposal in the 1990’s was that each “kind” corresponded roughly to the genus level, such that pairs of some 8000 animals would suffice to represent each “kind”. The Ark Encounter museum in Kentucky, backed by the prominent Answers in Genesis organization, now claims that there were only about 1500 “kinds”, and that typically all the current animals which are now classified within a single animal family evolved from a single “kind” from the ark [8]. For instance, in this model the entire cat family – – lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards, lynx, bobcats, ocelots, cheetahs, cougars, saber-tooths, domestic-type cats, and other species – – all evolved from one ancestral feline pair in less than 4500 years. (Some of these species are quite different from one another. Lions can breed with tigers, but probably not with cheetahs.) This means that each “kind” differentiated into at least 20 different species, on average, in the years since Noah’s Ark ran aground around 2500 B.C. [9]

The presentation pointed out some problems with this approach. It posits an enormously fast rate of evolution, far faster than biologists normally observe today and far faster than seen for conventional evolution per the fossil record. YE creationists have long denied genetic mechanisms and features such as gene duplication, punctuated equilibrium, and transitional fossils, but now these features are invoked to justify the hyper-fast development of current animals from ancestral “kinds”. [10]

Moreover, this proposed grouping of animals and hyper-evolution of species seems to be at odds with the treatment of species and reproduction in the Bible. There is no mention of new species appearing in Scripture. Within the biblical chronology, sheep beget sheep, not goats or cows. Dozens of animals are mentioned in the pages of the Bible, and pictured in contemporaneous Near Eastern art forms, and they all correspond to known species, not some intermediate forms. The presentation also noted problems with the YE creationist claim that all animals were originally created as herbivores, in the light of the exquisite adaptation of carnivores such as the cat family, and also in light of the celebration of the natural world (including predation) in Psalm 104. [11]

 

Hugh Ross, “Testing Biblical Creation Accounts with the Latest Science”

Hugh Ross, and his Reasons to Believe ministry, hold to day-age progressive creationism. He is probably the best-known proponent of this view, which in the early-mid twentieth century was by far the majority position among conservative Protestants in North America, but which has since been largely displaced by young earth creationism and by evolutionary creationism. In Ross’s model, the six days of creation in Genesis are six consecutive long periods of time, spanning the 13 billion years since the Big Bang origin of the universe. The point of view of the narrative is not looking at the earth from outer space, but rather looking up from the surface of the earth or the waters on the earth.

He imposes some non-traditional interpretations on the biblical text to make this scheme work. For instance, on the fourth day when the text says the God made the sun and moon and set them in the heavens, Ross says that does not mean the sun and moon were actually created then. Rather, this language describes the first clear appearance of the sun and moon as viewed from the earth’s surface, as changes in the earth’s atmosphere transformed it from being translucent to being transparent.   Ross rejects macroevolution, positing instead (as I understand it) the supernatural creation of new families of plants and animals throughout geologic history.

In this talk, Ross discussed some recent literature results which seem to support his model. Taken literally, the text in Genesis 1:6-7 of the events on Day 2 (“And God said, ‘Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.’  So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it “) describes the formation of a solid dome in the midst of the primordial waters, with liquid waters (not vapor) above the dome and a space beneath the dome where liquid waters still covered the earth’s surface [12].   Ross, however, takes this text to describe the establishment of a stable hydrological cycle, citing a parallel passage Job 37-38, where six different forms of precipitation are mentioned. He proposed that this development was tied to a massive asteroid impact which created the moon and which stripped away some 99% of the earth’s atmosphere and surface water.     In the Reasons to Believe model, the earth’s surface was initially all covered with ocean waters for billions of years before the continents appeared on Day 3 (per Genesis 1: 8 , “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.”). Although scientists in the 1960’s thought continents had existed from very early in earth’s history, more recent results indicate that dry land did not appear for more than two billion years, and then it appeared fairly abruptly, as part of the “Great Oxygen Event”. Ross sees these results as vindication of his model, and indeed vindication of the biblical text which he sees as giving a scientifically accurate description of astronomical and geological events over the past 13 billion years.

 

Digital Technology

Timothy Wallace, “The cyber problem: history, outlook, and responses”

This talk started with a quick tour of computer systems history:
1960s… Operating systems almost never crashed
1970s… Some networking, not secure
1975 UNIX came out, defined by only 10,000 lines of code
1980s… PCs and malicious actors. PC systems still fairly reliable.
1986, first PC virus… “Brain, from Pakistan
1990s. Microsoft dominant. Windows 3.1 had 4.5 million lines of code, Windows 95 had 15 million. That’s more than any one person can keep track of. It was decided that adding and keeping features was more important than reliability, hence the code bloat.

2000s…More complexity, vulnerability. Windows XP 2001 35 million lines of code, 2009 Windows 7 had 40 million lines of code. Viruses took off. First major cell phone virus 2005.
2010‘s… More devices and attacks… Zero day exploits…Black market, ransomware. Internet of things (IOT), as chipmakers pushed their wares into other devices as sales of chips in the PC market flattened. IOT opens whole new realms of hacking and mischief.

Capitalism is a proven way to build a large economy, but it is not good for minimizing security risks, because it’s typically cheaper in the short run to operate insecurely. Some examples were given of major security breaches. Congress recently passed a law to reduce digitization in infrastructure, maintain some human intervention, since otherwise utilities are seduced into squeezing a few percent more financial efficiency out of their systems by mass internet integration and automation. This could open the door to catastrophic hacking by other countries, analogous to the Russian cyber-attacks on the Ukraine electrical grid.

One practice that could be improved on is calling large general software libraries or subroutines, where only a few lines of code is really needed for the functionality. For example, a free flashlight app for your iPhone only needs a few lines of code. It is in fact a complex program because it is all about tracking your personal habits and information for sale, targeting ads, etc. Christians who work in programming have an ethical obligation to utilize responsible practices when they develop software.

Several practical tips for protecting yourself against hacking:

Don’t do financial on your cell phone. If you need to do money, buy a gift card at Walmart, which limits the amount of money at stake.

For password recovery, give false, weird answers. Otherwise someone might guess your answers. Example: some kid hacked Sarah Palin‘s email by researching her information then guessing her answers correctly.
Avoid social media.

Protect against ransomware by back-ups and more back-ups. Auto back-ups may not work so well, if they are encrypted. Use off-line backups, for instance a flash drive. Also, store some back-up copies offsite, for instance in a safe deposit box or relative’s house.

ENDNOTES

[1] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromosome_2   for more on this fusion event. See https://evograd.wordpress.com/2019/05/05/reviewing-replacing-darwin-part-7-a-nuclear-catastrophe/  for debunking of various false young earth creationist claims regarding this fusion region in chromosome 2.

[2] A brief presentation of Thomas’s Five Ways is given in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Ways_(Aquinas) . These “Ways” were not intended to be formal proofs of the existence of God, but rather ways of understanding God.   The Fifth Way has to do with the overall governance of the world, not with the appearance of “design” for any particular objects in the world: “We see various non-intelligent objects in the world behaving in regular ways. This cannot be due to chance since then they would not behave with predictable results. So their behavior must be set. But it cannot be set by themselves since they are non-intelligent and have no notion of how to set behavior. Therefore, their behavior must be set by something else, and by implication something that must be intelligent. This everyone understands to be God “.

[3] Skeptics argue that some physics theories imply the existence of a practically infinite number of universes with a wide variety of possible physical laws and constants. Thus, it is hardly surprising that at least one universe has the characteristics to support intelligent life. Theists note in response that (a) even these multiverse models involve certain parameter values, so the issue of fine tuning does not go away (and nature of the underlying laws, as well as the parameters, calls for explanation), and (b) it seems that empirical confirmation or falsification of the existence/properties of other universes will forever be out of our reach, so these multiverse proposals may not qualify as science.

[4] Adam Wright has further commented (personal communication 7/26/2019):

“Carroll is essentially presenting eight features his creation would’ve had if he were God.   He hopes they will resonate with the reader, and he’s probably right, because it’s common to think of God as a big, powerful, more perfect version of ourselves. Constructing a model of God in our own image will inevitably lead us to expect the world to reflect the creation we would have made if we were God. But the whole idea of God is that he is not like us. If our ideal conception of creation doesn’t match the world we see, it could easily mean that those elements of perfection were lost, or that we don’t understand God properly.

Most of Carroll’s eight proposed features are not all that likely under theism if we think of God as he is revealed in the Bible…

Unlike atheism, theism actually does make a few predictions unambiguously: it guarantees that you’ll at least have a world, it’ll have people capable of relating to God, it will have believers, etc. Atheism doesn’t really make any predictions about the world, in fact it doesn’t necessarily predict that there will be a world.”

[5] In a “flipped” classroom, many of the traditional locations for various learning activities are reversed. In traditional learning styles, most of the classroom time is devoted to one-way impartation of information in the form of lectures, while the students’ interaction with the material occurs mainly outside class in the form of homework assignments. Per Wikipedia: “In a flipped classroom, students watch online lectures, collaborate in online discussions, or carry out research at home while engaging in concepts in the classroom with the guidance of a mentor… The flipped classroom intentionally shifts instruction to a learner-centered model in which time in the classroom is used to explore topics in greater depth and create meaningful learning opportunities while students are initially introduced to new topics outside of the classroom”.

[6] I think this pithy statement gets to the heart of why youth often fall away upon going to college.

[7] Luke Janssen develops this concept of sin, and how the death of Jesus addresses sin, more fully in his article in the ASA publication Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith: https://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2018/PSCF3-18Janssen.pdf ]

[8] From the Ark Encounter website:       “…The biblical concept of created “kind” probably most closely corresponds to the family level in current taxonomy. A good rule of thumb is that if two things can breed together, then they are of the same created “kind”. It is a bit more complicated, but this is a good quick measure of a “kind.”…. Recent studies estimate the total number of living and extinct “kinds” of land animals and flying creatures to be about 1,500. “

[9] Dividing 33,000 living terrestrial species by 1500 gives an average of 22 species per “kind”; accounting for all of the 200,000 living plus extinct species would drive that number up considerably.

[10]   These supposed “kinds” have also been termed “baramins”. For a history of baraminology see: https://ncse.com/library-resource/baraminology

The subject is critically reviewed here: https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Baraminology .

[11] The presentation noted that, in some cases, there was more diversity among the descendants of a supposed ancestral “kind” than there was among the ancestral “kinds” themselves (this may be hard to appreciate without seeing a diagram). This is the sort of cladistic observation which actually supports conventional macroevolution – – as you go back in ancestral history, you find the common ancestors of the various carnivore family more and more like one another, supporting the evolutionary hypothesis that each of these common ancestors were all descended from a yet older common common ancestor.

[12] For more on the “firmament” as a solid dome, see Was the “Expanse” Overhead in Genesis 1 a Solid Dome? ]

Advertisements

About ScottBuchanan

Ph D chemical engineer, interested in intersection of science with my evangelical Christian faith. This intersection includes creation(ism) and miracles. I also write on random topics of interest, such as economics, folding scooters, and composting toilets. Background: B.A. in Near Eastern Studies, a year at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a year working as a plumber and a lab technician. Then a B.S.E. and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. Since then, conducted research in an industrial laboratory. Published a number of papers on heterogeneous catalysis, and an inventor on over 80 U.S. patents in diverse technical areas.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to American Scientific Affiliation 2019 Meeting, “Exploring Creation”

  1. pamincarolina says:

    Why am I receiving this email? Thx!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • Hi Pam, it seems you hit the “Follow” button when you viewed an article on this blog, perhaps a couple of years ago. That triggers WordPress to send emails to you whenever a new article is posted. There should be an Unsubscribe button on the email you get, if you want to stop getting these notifications.

  2. R. Joel Duff says:

    Thanks so much for these great overviews of the talks at ASA2019. I wish I had been able to be there for more than Monday morning but since I wasn’t there on Saturday and Sunday this is a great way to catch some of the talks. So glad to have been able to meet you Monday.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s