2014 Breakout Sessions

First Session: 12:45-1:45 p.m.

Michael P. Lombardo; Biology; Grand Valley State University
What is natural selection?

Natural selection is the framework used by Darwin to present his theory of evolution. Natural selection theory is easy to understand but can be difficult to apply to living things because of their complexity. The first step is understanding the ecological causes and evolutionary consequences of natural selection.

James Bradley; Mathematics; Calvin College
Randomness, Divine Providence, and Anxiety

Scientists often assert that some aspect of the natural world evidences randomness.  For many people the existence of randomness in nature seems inconsistent with the existence of a divine being who acts with providential care.  This presentation argues that much of the apparent conflict arises from misunderstandings and randomness can be seen as originating in the divine nature; it also provides a plausible explanation of the divine use of randomness in evolution.

John R. Schneider; Theology; Emeritus, Calvin College
Evolutionary Evils and the Christian God

Evolutionary science has dramatically amplified the problem of “natural evil” for Christian theism. The presentation is focused on discovery of the “Darwinian World” and on various attempts by theists to explain the evolutionary suffering of animals.

Rev. John J. Kenny; CSP  Philosophy, Science and Theology; Catholic Information Center
Any Rational Grounds for God’s Existence?

Some scientists see in the anthropic principle evidence of an intelligent Creator.  We will also a look at Anselm’s Ontological argument, Aquinas’ five ways and Pascal’s wager.

Sheldon Kopperl; Liberal Studies; GVSU
What Can the Talmuds Tell Us About Science and Medicine?

The Jerusalem and the Babylonian Talmuds contains much fascinating information that deals with science and medicine. Much of it has little or no historical basis and was largely oral and folkloric in nature.  We will examine a few examples from the Babylonian Talmud that show the variety of the material, and then discuss their historicity and how seriously they were regarded by early audiences.  

Bryan Pilkington; Philosophy; Aquinas College
Air, food, and water: Biology and Ethics in the Medical Setting

There has long been a consensus that feeding people is something we ought do, but advances in technology make eating and breathing a more complex issue in medicine for persons on life support. We will explore some differences in approach to this bio-ethical issue from a philosophical and a medical perspective.

Richard Peters; PhD in Science, Philosophy, and Religion
Two or Three Steps Beyond Scientism
Having successfully critiqued scientism Plantinga motivates a first step beyond it: supernaturalism.  However speculative philosophy should step beyond them to produce superior fundamental conceptions of nature.  But as inquiry itself presupposes fundamental assumptions about nature that could conceivably be mistaken, a third step beyond inquiry should also be considered.

Kelly James Clark; Philosophy/Religion; Grand Valley State University 
Are Atheists Normal?
In the past twenty years, the cognitive science of religion has demonstrated that belief in God is the product of very ordinary cognitive faculties; in short, belief in God is both natural and normal. What about unbelief? Recent research has shown that atheism and agnosticism are correlated with autism. Are atheists, then, abnormal or irrational?


Second Session: 2 – 3 p.m.

Deborah Haarsma; Astrophysics; President at BioLogos
What Americans Think and Feel about Evolution

An overview of the latest data on how Americans view evolution (and how strongly they hold those views), for the general population, for scientists, and for Christians of various denominations.  Is the landscape as polarized as it seems, and what can be done to improve the debate?

Tim Pennings; Mathematics; Davenport University
Thomas More, M.C. Escher, Bertrand Russell and Kurt Godel rebut Plantinga

Plantinga's assault on Naturalism does not address whether naturalism is true, but instead  whether it should be believed to be true. The problem lies in the self-referencing nature of the naturalist's argument.  A brief overview of the history of mathematics including M.C. Escher, Kurt Gödel and Bertrand Russell will suggest an alternative approach to the essential matter of the truth of naturalism.

John Cooper; Philosophical Theology; Calvin Theological Seminary
Humans Are Religious Beings: An Existential-Functional Account

Are all humans religious, or only those with spiritual beliefs and practices?  I argue that religion is life practice based on whatever we trust most deeply to meet our existential needs and address our perennial questions about life and death. The religious impulse is universal even if not always fully or confidently realized.

Ryan Roberts; Religious Studies/Old Testament; Cornerstone University
The Manipulation of Nature in Joshua: Modern Expectations and Ancient Explanations

The book of Joshua contains some of the most unusual manipulations of nature found anywhere in the Bible: the Jordan River being stopped up, huge stones sent from heaven to decimate the enemy, and the sun standing still. This session will discuss similar phenomena contained in other ancient writings and raise the challenge of reading the Bible in a modern age.

Robb Bajema; Biology; Aquinas College
The Natural World and the World of Faith

The session will engage the question of the relationship between science and religion in environmental biology. After a preliminary review of some of the assumptions we bring to conversation, the session will review how different traditions have viewed relationships of God, humans and the natural world. After engaging paradigm shifts of modern science and assessing how the languages of faith and science differ, the breakout will conclude with a review of pressing issues of “creation care” for modern people of faith.

Page last modified April 2, 2014