American Scientific Affiliation and
Canadian Scientific & Christian Affiliation
Volume 53, Number 6 NOV/DEC 2011
Sometimes it’s a midnight urge to turn on your desk lamp, grab a pen, and scribble down a great idea before it gets away.
Sometimes it’s the itch to share your unique experiences with others—a glimpse of snow-capped mountains jutting above a thick cloudbank, perhaps, or the chance to explore the electric guts of a cathedral-sized particle accelerator.
Sometimes it’s a direct response to the world around you, for better or worse—conveying thanks for the kindness of a friend or replying to a hostile comment online.
Sometimes it’s a grocery list.
The act of writing is a task most people perform every day. Almost always, the things we scribble in our spare time are simply personal reminders of stuff we either want or need to remember. Occasionally they’re thoughts to share with friends, family, and strangers. Other times, they’re things that occurred to us and we’re not sure why.
Unfortunately, some of our best writing never gets written.
Think about those moments of pause when a memory, reverie, or vision crosses your mind but doesn’t get preserved in print. Or the fascinating story you told to a friend over coffee, but never “saved” in the same way you’d save an important document.
Here’s why your random midnight scribblings and the compositions that never make it from your brain to a pad of paper are the subject of this letter: ASAers, we want your thoughts.
As Christians in science, ASA members everywhere are frequently exposed to situations in which other people want to know what you think and how, as a scientist, you maintain your spiritual beliefs.
When a literal interpretation of the Bible and a scientific exploration of nature seem at odds, the fact that many things don’t and maybe won’t ever “add up” is for some people a clear reason to mistrust the teachings of Christianity (or any religion), acknowledging instead only those truths that make the most sense.
All ASAers have probably experienced a gut-wrenching moment when you simply could not reconcile science with scripture.
Of course, the fact that you’re reading this right now means you found a way to work it out. The detail didn’t catch in the cogs of your faith and bring it to a squeaking halt. You are still slowly plodding down what many Christians call the narrow path, trying to understand your existence in terms of a personal God and Savior.
Maybe this goes without saying, but you’re one of the lucky ones. Not only have you been able to weather the pressures of an increasingly secular academia to stand up for what you believe—but you’ve done so in the company of two thousand other scientists, mathematicians, engineers, teachers, and theologians with whom you never have to argue about the sacredness of life on earth and the deeply wonderful mystery of God.
Someone, somewhere, is about to experience that same gut-wrenching moment that you had once upon a time. This person, who is probably a younger scientist, student, or working professional, may just need an example of someone else in their field or Christian denomination who has walked with grace through the same questions that they’re asking now.
Finally, after seventy years of existence and over two hundred publishings of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, the ASA is combining our newsletter with our online magazine God and Nature to produce a more robust, elegant, and wide-reaching publication that can cross the gap between the veteran academicians among us and the next generation of Christians in science.
In order to do this effectively, we need writing submissions—not of the academic kind (which we of course continue to accept for PSCF)—but of the personal, thoughtful, and creative kind. Your contribution could be a story, an essay, or a poem. It could be a charcoal drawing inspired by your favorite Bible verse or your latest research paper. If none of the known artistic forms work for you and you’d rather create your own, by all means—do so, and then submit!
As long as what you choose to compose works as a way to communicate with others about your take on science and faith, we will consider it for publication in the ASA’s forthcoming quarterly publication, God and Nature News. If you’ve already got a store of journal entries or other creative works and you’d like to contribute frequently, consider becoming a regular columnist or editor for God and Nature News by sending a proposal to Emily@asa3.org.
In addition to the new publication, as most of you have probably heard by now, the ASA is also initiating a number of exciting projects aimed at increasing our visibility and improving our communications on every possible level.
To that end, we are
In conclusion—start writing! I look forward to hearing from you.
The ASA selects its fellows from among our members who have been part of the organization for five years or more and demonstrate a commitment to Christian service at work, at home, and through participating in ASA events and publications. This year’s honorees are excellent examples of ASA’s diversity, as their work represent a wide range of professional interests in the fields of engineering, physics, geology, and mathematics. Join us in congratulating them!
Samuel E. Matteson is a physicist from Denton, Texas, and a Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of North Texas. He was educated at Baylor University and conducted post-doctoral research at the California Institute of Technology before working at Texas Instruments (where he became a Senior Member of the technical staff).
In both his daily and academic activities, Sam strives to integrate his Christian faith and express that joy to others. Sam says,
The story of my life is my argument, to paraphrase Albert Schweitzer. A child of a faithful couple, I knew about God from my earliest memories. At the age of ten I trusted God with the faith of a child—profoundly and sincerely—and came to know God, not just about him. As a teenager I began a life-long examination of that faith that my heavenly father has continually affirmed: God in Jesus Christ loved me even when I was an enemy of God.
Sam says his motto is the commandment of “Serve one another in love,” and he does so by acting as the faculty sponsor of the Christian student organization, as a deacon in his local congregation and as an advocate for the faith on campus.
Stephen O. Moshier has been a professor of geology at Wheaton College for twenty years and an advocate for the Christian faith since his college days at Virginia Tech.
While Steve was raised in the Christian church, his spiritual journey took a turn when his father began battling an aggressive form of cancer—which led to his parents becoming born-again Christians and to many healing services—but his father eventually lost that battle, and upon entering university, Steve had a lot of questions about God and his parents’ faith. Fortunately, he says,
God placed very specific friends and college professors in my life at Virginia Tech who were Christians and certainly appealed to my personal interests and spiritual needs.
Steve began a mentoring relationship with his mineralogy professor (whom Steve knew to be a Christian) after one of his neighbors gave him a book on Young Earth Creationism that was “completely incompatible with what I was learning in geology and rather disturbing to my Christian seeking.” The good news is, through his many relationships with other Christians in science, Steve was able to work through his questions and become an active, distinguished member of the ASA and of the Wheaton College faculty.
Perry G. Phillips’s biography is a testament to how important the faithful testimony of friends and colleagues can be in helping others find their way to Christian faith. A retired Senior Engineer at Comverse, Perry became a committed Christian while studying physics at Cornell University. It was through the influence of a research associate and another graduate student (ASA Fellow Robert C. Newman) in the space sciences department there that Perry began attending a church where many scientifically minded students worshiped.
Since that time, Perry has pursued both scientific and theological research; he received his doctoral degree from Cornell in astrophysics, a Master of Divinity from Biblical Theological Seminary, and a Master of Arts in biblical Hebrew from Jerusalem University College. Perry has had numerous publications in PSCF and enjoys teaching math classes at Gordon College as well as historical geography for visiting students in Israel.
Raised in the Evangelical Covenant church in rural Minnesota, retired General Electric engineer Robert Sundell has stayed actively involved in the church and in ASA throughout his engineering career. In addition to being a member of the Senior Professional Staff at the GE Corporate Research and Development Center, Robert has worked on various academic and Department of Energy projects ranging from proving the feasibility of a new process to fabricate aircraft engine rotor components to developing a better spinning mechanism on GE clothes washers to improving the technology used to fabricate nuclear power plant parts.
As long-time members of the Methodist church, Robert and his wife have been inspired to find new ways to serve the church in their retirement years—they’ve been on mission trips to Cuba, Nicaragua, and Guatemala, and they’ve participated in work programs such as Habitat for Humanity and Elderhostel.
Robert was introduced to the ASA while studying fluid mechanics and astrophysics at Yale. A few of his friends in the Intervarsity Fellowship encouraged him to join, and he has now been an ASA member for 40 years.
Randall D. Isaac
In the six years that I have been writing these columns, about a third of them have referred in one way or another to the importance of integrity in the practice of science, one of the commitments we have as an organization. This column continues that theme and explores some of the arenas in which that integrity must be applied.
The first arena we consider is that of the science classroom. About 60% of ASA members are involved with education in one form or another. It is vital that students gain an appreciation for the relevance of integrity in the practice of science. In the classroom, this involves both the scientific ideas being taught and the methodology by which scientific ideas are developed and evaluated.
One of the most important aspects of scientific methodology involves that of scientific consensus. Recognizing that every one of us as a scientist has subjective biases or incomplete knowledge that might influence our scientific understanding, the scientific community has developed a focus on consensus. When diverse scientists with expertise in a given topic, working from many different perspectives, independently obtain data and analyses that confirm a particular theory, and they come to substantial agreement among themselves, there is consensus.
Integrity in the science classroom means accurately reflecting the state of consensus at any given time. This includes (1) work at the frontiers of science, long before consensus is reached or theories have been formulated; (2) controversies in which competing theories vie for acceptance as consensus; (3) consensus opinion as it stands currently; and (4) ideas which have been rejected by consensus.
Skepticism is a critical part of the scientific methodology. As scientists, we learn to question everything in the sense of seeking to understand the evidential basis. Skepticism of the consensus is also encouraged and should be taught in the classroom. But skepticism needs to conform to proper scientific methodology as well. Questions or new data need to be published through the usual channels for consideration of the community of experts in that topic. If they haven’t done so already, the community will address and respond to the issues that are raised. When all issues have been addressed, the consensus may change or be strengthened as a result. If the consensus rejects the issues raised, then those issues are no longer appropriate skepticism.
At last year’s annual meeting in Washington, DC, we focused on science, faith, and public policy. To develop proper policy in the public arena, it is vital to rely on the consensus views. Unfortunately, decisions often need to be made before consensus is reached. The guidance of science advisory teams is vital in those situations. For areas in which the scientific community has reached consensus, public policy needs to be based on that view, recognizing that such a consensus might change over time.
In the arena of science and Christian faith, any viable approach must reconcile mainstream science with basic Christian thought. If a perspective is based on contradicting or modifying consensus thought, then one has not achieved a proper integration of science and faith but rather a challenge to the scientific community. It may well be the right idea, but it does need to work through the normal channels of science. If a perspective is based on denial of part of the creeds, then one has not integrated science with Christian faith but with a variant religion.
Too often as Christians, we seek to achieve harmony between science and faith by modifying science or by adhering to alternative interpretations of the Bible or of theology. What does this mean for the ASA? We encourage diversity and strive for dialog among various viewpoints. We do not require concurrence with consensus scientific thought, but we do expect that challenges be addressed with integrity by following accepted scientific methodology. The ASA respectfully listens and fosters discussions of such ideas, but in the end, the standards of consensus science and the basic creeds remain the appropriate criteria for assessing our progress. In all things, we seek a better understanding of what God has revealed to us through his Word and his creation.
Celebrating 25 Years of Membership
Chester W. Bart II
Lee E. Branscome
Warren S. Brown
Paul H. Chamberlain
William H. Gilbert III
D. Eric Greenhow
James D. Hooper
Robert E. Jones Jr.
Ann R. Karagozian
Donald H. McNally
Robert J. Russell
Richard W. Schaeffer III
John C. Studenroth
How to Build a Giant
ASA member Fred Heeren (author of a book about cosmology and faith titled Show Me God) recently published a feature article in the 14 July 2011 issue of Nature about how dinosaurs evolved from tiny to titanic. The article features a scannable tag to Nature’s first venture into creating a phone app: an interactive flash animation giving a little tour of sauropod evolution. Fred’s science journalism work, now mostly in the field of paleontology, includes articles in Nature, Science, Scientific American, New Scientist, and the Smithsonian—in addition to other pieces he has written for the newspapers the Boston Globe, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. We asked him to tell us something about his dinosaur investigations—and how they have enhanced his Christian experience.
My quest to understand how evolution works has led me to fossil digs with some fascinating people who spend long field seasons far from the comforts of civilization. I’ve spent the past two years studying sauropodomorph dinosaurs and how they evolved from tiny to titanic, from carnivores to herbivores, and from bipedal to quadrupedal. Just one time on this planet, a group of terrestrial animals reached lengths of over 130 feet and body masses of 100 tons, about fifteen times the mass of today’s largest land animals (African elephants). So how did they do it then, and why don’t we notice any animals peeping into sixth-story windows today?
Spending time with a couple dozen dinosaur fossil hunters led me to the secret of their quarry’s unmatched gigantism: the just-right combination of “pre-adaptations” in their tiny ancestors. I identified four stages in the evolution of the early sauropodomorphs in the Late Triassic and Early Jurassic periods, each stage represented in the fossil record by many sauropodomorph clades.
The lessons of sauropod evolution point to the importance of exaptation—traits get co-opted for new purposes. Like their colleagues studying molecular evolution (e.g., Hayden et al.’s “Cryptic genetic variation” paper in the 2 June 2011 Nature), sauropod paleontologists now call the first appearance of such adaptations “pre-adaptations,” returning to a term that had fallen out of favor because it could be taken to imply foresight. Instead, pre-adaptations imply researchers’ hindsight, used to see how primitive traits such as hollowed-out vertebrae or lengthening thighs might benefit descendants in new ways.
Without the just-right combination of characters in their relatively tiny ancestors, sauropods would not have developed the long necks, small heads, jaws that snipped without chewing, relatively light frame, fast growth, beefed-up sacrum, and pillar-like legs that allowed them to reach unprecedented masses.
Similar specializations have been observed earlier than expected in other lineages, like the theropod lineage leading to T. Rex. University of Chicago paleontologist Paul Sereno was surprised to find that Rex-like specializations had evolved 60 million years earlier in a theropod about 100th the mass of T. Rex, which he named Raptorex kriegsteini. Many ASA members will be familiar with examples of critical pre-adaptations going all the way back to the Cambrian radiation of multicellular life and before: sponges with neuronal-like receptors before they had nerve cells, amphioxus’s nerve system revealing what Simon Conway Morris calls “a vertebrate in waiting,” and brainless hemichordates already having genes that express the brain and spinal cord in later vertebrates.
Negatively, these pre-adaptations put evolutionary constraints—limitations—on future evolutionary pathways. But occasionally, a pathway appears fortuitous for what we consider an important attribute, like gigantism. Or carnivory, like T. Rex. Or outsized cranial capacities, like Randy Isaac’s.
How does any of this expand my Christian experience?
Just knowing I’ve started with scientific questions, rather than with an agenda, and that I’ve let the evidence take me where it will, gives me the gratifying experience of knowing I’m handling God’s natural world with integrity. It’s also gratifying to find out how different, rather than how similar, God’s manufacturing methods are compared with our human, rigid, temporary ones. God’s robust, flexible, evolvable designs differentiate him from us, rather than bringing him down to our level—and to me, it’s this differentiation that glorifies God:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa. 55:8–9)
Greetings from the Yanbian University of Science and Technology (YUST) in China. Just a couple of weeks after the ASA Annual Meeting in Naperville this past August, my wife and I boarded a plane for China. I have the privilege of serving as professor of biological engineering during this semester while I am on a sabbatical leave from Wheaton College, and it’s been one of the most wonderful experiences of my life.
YUST was founded in 1992 and is the first joint private-Chinese university in China. This international university is located in the Yanbian region of Jilin province, which borders North Korea and Russia. This region has a large population of Korean-Chinese people, and many of the stores and restaurants in the towns of the area have signs in both languages.
I am teaching a course in genetics, and the class consists mostly of junior and senior students who have fair to very good English. Another unique thing about teaching here is the fact that all of the faculty in the sciences and languages are Christians. The professors who work here serve as volunteers, and most of them are from South Korea.
In the sciences, all of the faculty members have a PhD degree in their field. There is a low student to faculty ratio, and the professors enjoy getting to know the students outside of class. This makes YUST a wonderful place for students to come to learn and to be cared for. While learning about Korean and Chinese culture and enjoying food and fellowship with other faculty, my wife and I have also had the pleasure of helping a number of students practice their English, and of getting to know them better.
For other ASAers out there who might be interested in having a similar experience abroad, there are ample opportunities for Christians in science and other fields to use their academic expertise in this setting of service.
One way is through the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), which started teaching students English in October 2010. Courses in the sciences have since started, with about 250 students. PUST is designed to duplicate what is done at YUST, but in North Korea. PUST is looking for volunteers to teach and are currently offering courses in electrical and computer engineering, agriculture and life sciences, and international finance and management, as well as English.
Another way is through a project which provides food to over 33,000 North Korean children. The northern region of the country is mountainous, and the people just over the border from here are particularly poor. More information about these projects and others is available at http://www.yustpust.org.
We will be returning to the United States in December, just in time for Christmas, but we will never be the same after our experiences at YUST. We look forward to sharing more about our experiences at YUST with friends, families, and colleagues when we return, and hopefully we will have the opportunity to tell more to our ASA family at the next Annual Meeting.
David Andreu’s paper, titled “The Generation of Antimicrobial Peptide Activity: A Trade-off between Charge and Aggregation,” explores why proteins with no specific defensive roles (i.e., not belonging to the immune system) possess nonetheless a potent antibiotic action, in addition to their primary biological role. Andreu and fellow researchers propose a potential pathway for the evolution from amyloid (aggregation-prone) to antimicrobial protein sequences.
The publisher, Greg Smith, Black Lake Press, edited Ken Touryan’s booklet as 6th edition, and placed it on Amazon. The title is the same: A Cord of Multiple Strands: An Evidence-Based Assessment of Christian Truth Claims, 88 pages, copyright 2011, ISBN 978-0-9839602-0-1. The cost is $6.95.
Day Star is offering a series of grants to Christian researchers pursuing science graduate degrees in fields such as evolutionary biology, paleontology, geology, anthropology, ecology, molecular biology, genetics, etc. The organization has received funds from supporters specifically earmarked for these research grants. Day Star’s Board of Directors plans to fund 1 to 3 research grants ranging from $2,000 to $7,000. The organization wants to encourage more Christians to participate in the sciences and become active researchers in their fields of interest. Details and application can be found at: here.
Evolution Weekend 2012 to Be Held Near Washington, DC
Evolution Weekend began in 2006 with 467 congregations across the country registering their commitment to promote the compatibility of science and religion on February 12 of that year. Since then, the Clergy Letter Project has designated one weekend in February as Evolution Weekend.
Evolution Weekend 2012 will take place on February 10–12. To register, send an e-mail to email@example.com with the name of your church, the city and state, and the name of the sponsor, usually the pastor. The Clergy Project can be accessed through links on www.wesnex.org.
ICSA VII World Congress, “Brave New World? Genetic Engineering and Human Dignity,” will be held in Pasadena, California, August 2–5, 2012.
ICSA endeavors to bring together scholars from a wide range of disciplines and denominations for an exciting conference which takes both scholarship and faith seriously. Brave New World is cosponsored by IIR-ICSA-JIS in the City of the Roses—the world famous Tournament of Roses—in sunny Southern California, with many cultural and sightseeing opportunities.
Conference participants must pre-register. Abstracts (250 words) due June 1, 2012. Send to Dr. Oskar Gruenwald, JIS Editor, 1065 Pine Bluff Drive, Pasadena, CA 91107; per e-mail (no attachments) to info@JIS3.org and include the following: paper title, first & last name, faculty or student, mailing address, phone & e-mail. Fully developed papers will be considered for publication in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies XXV (2013). Visit www.JIS3.org/icsavii.htm
The ASA is seeking submissions for its first annual student writing competition. The contest is open to graduate and undergraduate students.
We are accepting works of poetry (no longer than 200 lines), fiction, and creative nonfiction (no more than 1500 words) on the topic of science and faith from Dec. 1, 2011, to Jan. 31, 2012. Visit the ASA website for details and a downloadable flyer. Grand prize is $200.00.
Please forward to your students.
Roger Wiens was a co-author on two papers in the 24 June 2011 issue of Science on the isotopic composition of the Sun and the solar nebula. The results are from samples of solar wind collected by NASA’s Genesis mission, and were collected using an instrument called the Solar Wind Concentrator, developed by a team led by Wiens at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The Genesis mission was launched in 2001 and was the first spacecraft to return from beyond the Moon in 2004, when it crash-landed in the Utah desert after its parachute failed to deploy.
Fortunately, the Concentrator targets survived the crash and have now been analyzed for nitrogen and oxygen isotopes. The results show that the Earth’s isotopic composition is very different (7% for oxygen, 38% for nitrogen) isotopically from the average of the solar nebula from which the sun and planets were formed and provide insights into what was happening during the collapse of the solar nebula.
The Science papers are titled “A 15N-poor isotopic composition for the solar system as shown by Genesis solar wind samples” and “The oxygen isotopic composition of the Sun inferred from captured solar wind.”
About 80 participants met for the first workshop on the Pedagogy of Faith in the Science Classroom, June 27–29, 2011, sponsored by Indiana Wesleyan University. Dennis Brinkman, professor of chemistry and associate dean of physical and applied science at Indiana Wesleyan, organized and chaired this meeting.
The purpose of this workshop was to encourage the integration of faith and science in the teaching of the natural sciences, mathematics, and computer science, particularly in the contemporary culture in which many consider faith and science to be in conflict or at least separate concerns. The workshop included plenary speakers J. P. Moreland, who spoke on “Integration, Christian Worldview and the Christian College,” and Karl Giberson, “The Importance of Dismantling the Science versus Religion Warfare Metaphor.” Moreland’s presentation helped participants to consider the metaphysical and epistemological features of faith and science integration, while Giberson’s talk helped to identify and remove perceived obstacles to faith and science integration.
In addition, 16 workshop presentations were given over two days on a variety of pedagogical approaches and techniques for faith-science integration, including presentations by ASA members James Bradley, Stephen Contakes, Bruce Hrivnak, Joseph Lechner, and Raymond Lewis.
The tone of the workshop was characterized by a shared interest and cooperation. Moreland and Giberson were actively engaged in the entire workshop, and provided feedback to help summarize the workshop at the end. A full description of the workshop, including both abstracts and presented content from each of the presenters, can be found at www.indwes.edu/faithandscience/. It is possible that Indiana Wesleyan University will sponsor additional workshops of this kind in the future. * Ray Lewis
It is with deep regret that we announce the passing of James Oliver Buswell III on August 8, 2011, in Carol Stream, Illinois. James III, who always went by “Jim,” was a professor of anthropology and served on the faculties of Shelton College, Wheaton College, Nyack Missionary College, and St. John’s University.
Jim was blessed with an extraordinarily close-knit family whose ties with Wheaton began with Jim’s father, J. O. Buswell Jr., who served as Wheaton College president and whose four children all attended university there.
During his college years, Jim became devoted to the study of cultural anthropology, especially as it related to the Christian missionary endeavor. Throughout his academic career, Jim was a vibrant and active member of the ASA and served with distinction on the ASA Executive Council.
As we send up a prayer for Jim and his surviving family, let us take heart in these hopeful words from his funeral message,
James Oliver Buswell III, child of Jesus, is at home with his God even now. So as we grieve the loss of James—as we celebrate his life—let us remember the example and words of Jesus in John 14. Let’s grieve with hope. Not trivial hope—not trying to summon up good feelings. But hope in a very real “where.” That James is finally in God’s place, a house with plenty of room, in permanent and joyful satisfaction with the God who made him.
Archer, Austin C. –Walla Walla, WA
Bouma-Prediger, Steven C. –Holland, MI
Boyd, Robert R. –Placerville, CA
Campbell, Julia D. –Superior, CO
Chacko, Thomas –Edmonton, AB, Canada
Chi, Terry C. –Orange City, IA
Conover, Edwin W. –Cumberland, KY
Dede, Heather –Wheaton, IL
Dowling, Matthew –Norman, OK
Farese, Philip –Chevy Chase, MD
Gay, Pamela L. –Edwardsville, IL
Hanby, John D. –Katy, TX
Howard, Michelle –Bloomington, MN
Hughes, Jeffrey K. –Carroll, IA
Johnson, Andrew –Chicago, IL
Joo, Pilju K. –Brooklyn, NY
Kennedy, John –Santa Barbara, CA
Knapp, Eli J. –Fillmore, NY
Loewen, Albert –Delta, BC, Canada
Luskin, Casey R. –Seattle, WA
Melendy, Robert –Newberg, OR
Munson, Allison H. –Brooklyn, NY
Reichel, Kimberly S. –Houston, MA
Richter, George B. –Grand Rapids, MN
Risser, Jerry L. –McCordsville, IN
Secki Shields, Jennifer –Falls Church, VA
Tompkins, Perry A. –Bolivar, MO
Vojak, Bruce A. –Mahomet, IL
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Editor: Emily Ruppel
Managing Editor: Lyn Berg