2022 abstracts

Darwinian Evolution:  Perspectives from Science, Philosophy, and Theology

Prof. Marty Hewlett

The current working paradigm of modern biology is the neo-Darwinian synthesis…the melding of Mendelian genetics, population genetics, and mutation with Darwin’s model for speciation by descent with modification.  Both the laws of genetic inheritance and the theory of evolution are supported by multiple lines of evidence derived from observations in several sub-disciplines of biology.  Nevertheless, there continues to be controversy surrounding the hypothesis put forward in 1859 by Charles Darwin in his book “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.”  I will discuss the biological models, the nature of the data supporting these models, and the philosophical and theological contexts surrounding these issues.  I will conclude by supporting theistic evolution as a framework for understanding the science of biological evolution.

The Science of Buddhism

Dr. John Ambrosiano

Buddhism, considered one of the world’s four great religions, is at its core not a religion at all. Professed to be non-theistic (neither atheistic nor agnostic) it is a blend of spirituality, eastern philosophy, and empirical psychology. Its spiritual roots lie in the mystical traditions of India, to which the historical Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) added his own unique perspective. Migrating east, Buddhism acquired much from the Taoist sages of China, and then carrying both Indian and Chinese wisdom to Japan, became Zen.

Buddhism was included in Aldous Huxley’s book, “The Perennial Philosophy” where he asserted commonalities among a number of spiritual traditions, including the mystical threads of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, concerning the direct experience of oneness.

The science of Buddhism comes from the empirical investigation of the mind, using the only instruments available in ancient times, the minds of investigators themselves. Equipped with exquisite powers of observation derived from meditation practice, Buddhist monks were able to discover ways in which the human mind works that are only now being rediscovered by neuropsychologists. And applying their understanding to direct experience of the world around them, they made further discoveries that echo those of modern physics.

This talk will give a brief summary of how Buddhism came about, and then explore the parallels between empirical Buddhist thought and principles of modern psychology and physics.

  Images of God in the Bible, Art and in our Scientific Work

Dr. Eric Ferm

On the sixth day of creation as reported in the first chapter of Genesis, God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; . . .”.   Why does the Bible have God speaking in the plural case (“us” and “our”)?   What insight into Gods’ image do we find by examining who we are and the self-images we gift to the world?   What glimpse of each of our beings enlightens our image of God?  Biblical scholars categorized these views in three general categories:  views that serve to resemble God, views that our interpersonal relationships reflect divine images, and views that Gods’ divine image is manifested in our representation of God in our actions in this world.   We will review how artists and authors have portrayed Gods’ Image and how they fit into these categories.   One mathematician’s introspective view of his image of God in the modern world will be presented, before we break into small groups to discuss Images that resonate with members of each group.

  Eastern Christianity and Science

Dr. Victoria Erhart

Eastern Christianity entered modernity through a very different path than that of Western Christianity (Latin based). Eastern Christianity took no part in the Crusades and the development of Scholastic theology, nor did Eastern Christianity participate in the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment or the socio-political consequences of the American and French revolutions.  Much of Eastern Christianity developed under challenges from Islamic expansion from the seventh century on, culminating in the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. In the modern era, much of Eastern Christianity functioned under Communist persecution. All of these factors helped shape the questions and problems on which Eastern Christianity focused. The relationship between faith and science was not a top priority. But Eastern Christianity does offer us a model for how faith and science, the use of sense perceptible knowledge and discursive reasoning, can relate to one another, a model much different from the “conflict model” so prevalent in Western Christianity.

Origin of Life

Patrick Berg, MD (Maj, USAF)

In 1802, William Paley published his famous watch analogy in Natural Theology. He asserted that if a watch is found in an open field, “the inference we think is inevitable, (is) that the watch must have had a maker- that there must have existed, at some time and at some place or other… an artificer who formed it.” He reviewed the complexity of human anatomy, as well as animals and plants, based on scientific understanding at the time. Seeing complexity far beyond a watch in plants, animal and human anatomy, he concluded that there is a Creator.    William Paley’s idea was not new. From the Greek philosophers, to the Bible and the Quran, the existence of God was asserted to be self-evident on the basis of the wonder of the world we live in. However, after the publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859, scientifically-minded individuals increasingly associated the theory of natural selection with “the” driving force that created “the watch.” This rigid association fueled an uptick in atheism.    However, natural selection as “the” mechanism of creation falls apart when we get down to the ground level. When we look at the mechanics of what is actually happening in all living organisms (which is biochemistry), the contribution of the theory of natural selection is placed in its proper perspective. It becomes evident that a completely naturalistic view of creation is actually a belief, that doesn’t come anywhere close to meeting a burden of proof, and isn’t destined to at any point in the near future. In fact, while sometimes the devil is in the details, this presentation might demonstrate God is also in the details. When the details are examined, the wonder of life is affirmed as well today as when William Paley first published Natural Theology.    A cell is the basic unit of all life; therefore, the natural starting point for exploring whether natural processes explain how life came to be is to explore the development of the first cell. This presentation will briefly explain the primary mechanisms inside all cells, and then review the current degree to which a naturalistic explanation for them seems plausible, based on the current scientific research.  

 The Orthodox Church, Faith vs Knowledge: St. Isaac in the 7th century

Fr. Jesse Robinson

This presentation will ask the questions from an Orthodox Christian perspective: Are faith and science really so opposed? How are they meant to be ordered? What end are they meant to serve? We will examine teachings of Orthodox Christian Fathers, with specific emphasis on the writings of the great ascetic of the 7th century, St. Isaac the Syrian. 

Understanding Confidence and Uncertainty in Religion and in Science

Dr. Gary Stradling

Can we explore Faith Truth and Science Truth in a similar manner? Science is discussed in experiential/quantitative terms which may be shared with others: observation, measurement, analysis, modeling. Faith is often discussed in qualitative terms: mystical, philosophical, emotional.  Both science and religion are all about knowledge, truth, confidence, and understanding. We grasp an understanding of their reality and relevance by observation, experience, exploration and experimentation, cogitation, discussion, model building.

The Hologenome Theory of Evolution

Dr. Glenn Magelssen

The Hologenome theory of Evolution postulates that one must include not only the host (what we see when we look at another human) but also all that human’s microbiome (all of the bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc.) when considering the evolution of humans. We will present information about how the microbiome is affected by age, diet, activity, health, etc. and how bacteria play an important and vital role in the human body. We will discuss how some of the microbiome is passed from one generation to the next and how bacteria and viruses may have played a vital role in the evolution of humans

Interactions with the Divine – a statistical view

Dr. Chick Keller

This talk asks the question whether science can elucidate aspects of interactions with the Divine which involve a reaction. Does God answer prayers, are miracles still happening, does God allow Satan to possess people, are near death experiences spiritual or just the brain shutting down, etc. To study these and other question we ask if such events are wide spread among faiths and cultures or limited to faithful Christians. Comparing statistics with beliefs seems to assist the faithful in understanding the nature of our interactions with the Divine and the spiritual aspects of ourselves

“The Heavens Declare”: The Universe and Judaeo-Christian Truth Claims

Dr. Nels Hoffman

The writer of the biblical book of Genesis asserted that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” while the Psalmist similarly stated that “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” This idea, that the universe had a beginning at a definite point in time, and was the work of an extra-cosmic creator, is a truth-claim firmly fixed in Judaeo-Christian thought. But Aristotle, in several places in his Physics, argued that the universe was eternal, and could not have had a beginning. By the early 20th century, Aristotelian and Epicurean ideas of the Eternity of the World, extended by Newton and Descartes, were accepted by most educated people. It is one of the reasons that, for example, Einstein felt obliged to introduce a “cosmological constant” into his field equations, to explain why our supposedly infinitely old universe had not collapsed into a gravitational singularity. But an infinitely old universe presented various other problems, such as Olbers’ Paradox (Why is the sky dark at night?) and Kelvin’s Paradox (Why isn’t the entropy of the universe infinite?) Then, in 1912, Slipher observed that many astronomical “nebulae” (actually galaxies) were moving away from the Earth at great speeds. By 1929, Hubble, using Leavitt’s period-luminosity relationship for variable stars, showed that the more distant a galaxy was from earth, the faster it was receding from us. Hubble’s discovery confirmed earlier proposals by Friedmann and Lemaître, inspired by Einstein’s 1915 general relativistic theory of gravity, that the universe is expanding. More recent observations and theory have confirmed the idea of cosmic expansion beginning at a well-defined point in the past – the “Big Bang” – with great reliability. Today, most educated people agree that the universe had a Beginning, in harmony with the biblical viewpoint – or, at least, that our particular universe certainly looks that way. But the idea of a Beginning has been extremely distasteful to some atheists, notably Hoyle, who pointed out in 1955 that the initial conditions of an instantaneous Beginning, which are crucial for determining the properties of the universe today, cannot be determined by any scientific theory, as they cannot be the physical effect of some earlier physical cause. Thus Hoyle anticipated a critique of current Multiverse ideas, namely, that the Multiverse implies that there is not, nor can there be, an explanation for why our universe is the way it is, and that we ought not to seek such an explanation. In this talk we’ll look at ideas about the hypothetical Multiverse. We’ll also review the evidence supporting the Big Bang, and describe the peculiar properties of our universe which permit the existence of physics, chemistry, life, and us – and why God might want the universe to be the way it is.