Becoming aware of one’s environment, one’s self, and others (from knowing that you are seeing the reflection of yourself in a mirror to imagining yourself as someone else in a complicated fictional work) shows a gigantic range of development in how humans view themselves and others in the world. This awareness leads to the qualities of compassion, empathy, love, and cooperation. Being able to depend on what others are likely to do in a given situation allows us to assist in common efforts and avoid situations that may be unpleasant or dangerous. Knowing that we can depend on others allows us to choose specialized occupations and know that others will provide for the necessities that we cannot provide ourselves. We will examine these issues and ask ourselves the question: “Are awareness and cooperation the sparks that make humans unique or are we simply more adaptable at this ability than other animals that show the same abilities to different degrees?”
About our presenter:
Eric Ferm was raised in the Episcopal church and has been a member of Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church for the last 34 years where he is a member of the church choir and the Stephen Ministry team. He has been involved with the LA Forum on Science and Faith from its inception. Eric has always enjoyed science, taking all of the chemistry, physics and mathematics he could in high school and college. He has always found enjoyment in studying topics on the history and philosophy of science and religion and the intersection between them. He obtained a PhD in Applied Mathematics in 1981 and worked on fluid mechanics problems and analysis of problems and experiments involving fluids and dynamic solid movements of interest to Los Alamos National Laboratory for nearly 31 years. Eric has been retired since 2012 giving him more time for traveling around the world, barbershop and chorus singing, and enjoying being a new grandfather.
Our genetic code, DNA, is one of the most important aspects of what makes us human. Our genome illustrates the complex building blocks used to create all kinds of different forms of life. A video presentation will be used to illustrate how our genes relate to other animals and plants and how different forms of life have developed different chromosome structure. For example, apes have 48 chromosomes while humans have 46. Chimpanzees have genes most similar to human beings. For example, until recently research papers have suggested that their DNA is only about 1.2% different from a human’s. Recent research analysis suggests that it may be more like 4 to 5% and that the amount of the difference depends on the type of analysis done and the inherent assumptions made when doing the comparison. A 5% difference in our DNA would amount to 150,000,000 differences between the human and chimpanzee. Only about 5% of human DNA is composed of genes, the basic blueprint. The rest of the DNA, called noncoding DNA, is not well understood and is an area of intense research. There are structural and chemical changes to humans that do not affect the human DNA. For example environmental effects such as work stress, cruelty during childhood, chemical exposure can cause such effects. This is also an area of intense research called epigenetics. I’ll end my talk describing the area of nutritional epigenetics.
About our presenter:
Glenn Magelssen has a PhD from the University of Colorado. His scientific research has included solar physics, laser and ion beam fusion, neutral nets, code development and stockpile stewardship. He has studied theology most of his life and taken a four year course called EFM from the University of the South on Old and New Testament, Christian history and Christian Theology. He has been influenced by many authors including Martin Luther, C. S. Lewis, Joseph Sitler, Walter Wangerin, Richard Feynman, John Steinbeck, Clarence Jordan and Paul Tournier.
This presentation will provide an introduction to the features and characteristics that make humans different and unique among other species. First, we will briefly look at some of the differences that account for our uniqueness compared to primates, and what are the things that really account for the fact that we are much more than animals. Then the Biblical concept of the “image of God” will be explored as a theological basis for human uniqueness.
About our presenters:
Anca Lymperopoulou is a Christian from Romania. Her undergraduate studies were focused on Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience (UK), after which she obtained a master degree (Sweden) in Cognitive Neuroscience: Mind, Brain & Wellbeing. She is very interested in humans’ emotions, ways of thinking, and humans’ power to change (for the better) by changing our ways of thinking and the perspective we look at this world. She works at the New Mexico Consortium in Los Alamos with her husband Panos.
Tim Stidham is a preaching and teaching minister at the Los Alamos Church of Christ where he has been serving for almost 29 years. He has a Masters in Divinity from Abilene Christian University.
Our understanding of our animal nature has grown rapidly over the last few centuries and is advancing even more so today. Genetic findings have shown us how closely we are related to other species. Studies in neuroscience point to the many similarities humans and animals share with regard to emotions and behaviors. The question as to what extent do our similarities extend is explored in the first presentation: “The Science of Our Animal Nature”. Theological confirmation of our biological status as part of the animal kingdom is found in Genesis: Humans and animals have common origins, ways of coming into being, and animation (breath of life). It’s no surprise our physiology and some behaviors are also similar.
About our presenters:
Bob Fuselier’s, DVM, science journey developed from his interest in nature exploring the bayous and wetlands around his home into a career as a veterinarian. That career includes work as a large animal veterinarian, public health and environmental work at a Honduran orphanage, microvascular research, and small animal medicine and surgery. His faith journey has its roots in the Catholic Church. The two journeys first crossed paths at a Catholic high school run by Christian Brothers, where he learned to question both his spiritual self and the world around him. Today, science and faith continue their interplay in his life as he seeks to understand man’s propensity for violence through scriptures, anthropology, and neuroscience.
David Elton has served the United Church as Senior Pastor since 2011. David grew up in Dallas, Texas, and is a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) minister who has also served churches in Venice, Florida, and College Station, Texas, since 1998.
Robert Sapolsky, Professor of Biology, Neurology and Neuroscience at Stanford, discusses his view, as a practicing primatologist, of what makes humans “uniquier” — how we are similar to other primates and how we differ. Examining 5 topics which are sometimes used to distinguish humans from other primates: aggression; theory-of-mind; applications of the Golden Rule; empathy; and a capacity for anticipation/deferred gratification, Sapolosky first illuminates some surprising way in which animal behavior parallels human behavior, and then draws distinctions showing what aspects of human behavior distinguishes us from animals, and especially primates. Sapolsky, describing himself as a “strident atheist”, concludes with a surprising thesis of his own about what distinguishes humans from animals, issuing a challenge to the graduating class of Stanford, and to other listeners as well.
About our presenter:
Bob Reinovsky is an elder at White Rock Presbyterian Church and a practicing scientist and program manager at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He grew up in the Roman Catholic faith, and adopted the Calvinist view that characterizes modern Presbyterians when he was about 26. His interest in exploring the intersection of science and religious faith is rooted in his conviction that these two ways of understanding the world around us, do not always lead us to the same place; but do complement each other and together make for a richer understanding of who we are and what we are called to be.
What makes us human? The Judeo-Christian tradition has for centuries embraced the scriptural affirmation that humans are created in the image of God. For adherents of this tradition, this theological understanding of human origins provides a substantial argument for human uniqueness. The troubling question is: What does it mean to be created in God’s image?
About our presenter:
John Guthrie is the pastor of White Rock Presbyterian Church. He has a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Texas at Dallas (1989) and an M.Div. from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary (2006). John has done research in molecular and chemical physics and has served on the faculty of a regional state university.
Steven Mithen gives evidence for eight ways in which the mind of Neanderthals and Modern Humans are similar and three ways in which they are significantly different. Our discussion will focus on how we can use our faith and our evolved and creative minds to address issues facing humanity today.
About our presenter:
Laurie Triplett has a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon and came to LANL in 1996. Her thesis used detailed 3D modeling to help find ways of reformulating gasoline in California. Currently she works on validating computer models of satellite measurements of electromagnetic pulses (EMP) from nuclear detonations and developing multi-phenomenological analyses for treaty monitoring. In addition to being a scientist she has recently completed her Masters of Divinity and is currently in the process to be ordained a bi-vocational priest (meaning she will keep her day job) with a tentative date of ordination of June 2016. She is passionate about the combination of faith and science and encouraging respectful dialogue across difference. Laurie is also a wife and mom of two kids, ages 14 and 12.