Schedule and details for the May 29 meeting on “Is there intelligent life in outer space? What are the stakes?”

“Is there intelligent life in outer space? What are the stakes?”

May 29, 2021. Webinar only. To register, go to this page.

All times Eastern Time

10:00 AM   Bijan Nemati

“Waiting for ETI: A Christian Scientific Perspective on Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence”

In 1543 Nicolaus Copernicus published his heliocentric theory in the classic work “On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres.” His idea challenged the long-standing geocentric cosmology that had reigned since the days of Aristotle. The modern-day “Copernican Principle,” meant to generalize that famous paradigm shift, holds that neither humanity nor the Earth which it inhabits can be “special.” Rather, these must be mere examples of what is repeated innumerable times in the Universe. An extension of this principle, to include the history of life on Earth, led most 20th century scientists to believe that extra-terrestrial life must be ubiquitous. It was against this expectation that by 1950, in a lunchtime conversation with colleagues, physicist Enrico Fermi famously quipped “Where is everybody?” The search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, or SETI, project has spent the last half-century looking for a telltale signal, and has come up short. In this talk, we examine from a Christian perspective the likelihood for extra-terrestrial life, taking into account what we have learned about extra-solar planets over the last two decades.

Bio: Bijan Nemati left Iran, his country of birth, in the weeks before the Islamic Revolution of 1979. He finished high school in the U.S. and studied physics in college. He received his Ph.D. in high energy physics from the University of Washington, and it was also there that he became a Christian. During his post-doctoral work at Cornell’s particle accelerator facility, he became interested in scientific apologetics, and has appeared in various documentaries on intelligent design, including the Privileged Planet and Science Uprising. For the last 20 years, he has been working on advanced space telescopes for astrophysics and exoplanet detection, mostly at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and most recently as a Principal Research Scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

10:50 AM   Kenneth Samples

“A Christian Perspective on the Space Aliens of the UFO Phenomenon”

This talk will briefly examine the UFO phenomenon identifying the three broad explanatory theories concerning “ufology.” The talk will also exam the general view of space aliens as set forth in common UFO experience and religion.

Bio: Kenneth Richard Samples is a senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe, an organization dedicated to demonstrating the compatibility of science and Christianity. Kenneth earned a BA in social science with an emphasis in history and philosophy from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. He worked for several years as senior research consultant and correspondence editor at the Christian Research Institute and regularly cohosted popular call-in radio program The Bible Answer Man. Today, Kenneth is author of several books, including Classic Christian Thinkers, Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, and his latest book, Christianity Cross Examined.

11:40 AM   Jay Richards

“The Privileged Planet and the Rarity of Habitable Planets”

A common way of organizing our speculations about extraterrestrial life is with the Drake Equation. The problem, as someone once quipped, that it is, in effect, a way of compressing a great deal of ignorance in a small amount of space. That is, there’s little certainty about the various factors. Still, we do know enough already, from both our knowledge of chemistry and astrobiology, to suspect that habitable planets are likely to be extremely rare, relative to uninhabitable ones. Moreover, we should suspect that any habitable planets will be highly earthlike. This alone is an interesting conclusion, but there’s more to it. It appears that habitable, earthlike planets, are also the best platforms, overall, for a diverse array of scientific discoveries. This suggests that the universe is not only fine tuned for life, but for scientific discovery as well.

Bio: Jay Richards, Ph.D., O.P., is a Research Assistant Professor in the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America, a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, and the Executive Editor of The Stream. He is author of more than a dozen books including the New York Times bestsellers Infiltrated (2013) and Indivisible (2012), as well as Money, Greed, and God (winner of a 2010 Templeton Enterprise Award). He is also co-author of The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery (2004) with astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez. He is also creator and executive producer of several documentaries, including three that have appeared widely on PBS. Richards’ articles and essays have been published in The Harvard Business Review, Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, Washington Post, Forbes, Fox News, National Review Online, The Hill, Investor’s Business Daily, Washington Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Huffington Post, The Federalist, The American Spectator, The Daily Caller, and many other publications. He has written and lectured on a wide range of topics, including culture, economics, public policy, natural science, technology, and the environment.

12:30 PM   Jonathan Barlow

“Towards a Protestant Christian Exotheology”

Thinking theologically about the possibility of plant, animal, or even sentient life native to non-earth locations impacts every Christian systematic theological category. From controversial ontological questions (e.g., what kinds of created beings exist?), to tamer questions about the centrality of human life in the larger created cosmos and the ethics of space travel, the nascent field known as exotheology provides a fascinating perspective from which to consider traditional theological commonplaces. Protestant systematic theology, especially of a variety that emphasizes the authority, sufficiency, and perspicuity of scripture, constrains speculation and establishes certain guardrails within which answers may be given to these questions. In this presentation, Barlow will discuss the history of Christian exotheology and attempt to sketch the meta-theological contours of a systematic exotheology that is both Christian and Protestant.

Bio: Jonathan Barlow holds a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Saint Louis University and a Master of Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary. He serves as an Associate Director at a research center at Mississippi State University that applies data science to education, workforce, human services, and economic development projects. Barlow serves as a ruling elder at Grace Presbyterian Church, a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America. He grew up in south Mississippi where he enjoyed countless conversations about space exploration with his father, a career NASA employee.

1:20 PM   Panel Discussion

Beside the above speakers, we will include the following additional panelists:

David Snoke (PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) is a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Pittsburgh.

Gavin Ortlund (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) serves as senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Ojai in Ojai, California. He is the author of several books, including Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation and Why God Makes Sense in a World That Doesn’t.

Astrophysics, Biblical Interpretation, Human exceptionalism, SETI

News items January/February 2021

Call for speaker nominations. On this last item, the proposed theme for an upcoming CSS meeting is “Is there intelligent life in outer space, and what are the theological stakes?” If you know someone well qualified to talk on this topic either scientifically, philosophically, or theologically, send an email to info@christianscientific.org.

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Review of the October meeting (Videos now available online!)

Review of the meeting on “Is the Natural World Good or Bad?” October 24, 2020

David Snoke, University of Pittsburgh

The recordings are now available online of all the talks. To access the videos for free, if you are a CSS member, go to this link. You must be signed in with your account on the CSS website to go to this page. If you are not a CSS member, you can go directly to the video hosting site.

By all accounts that I have heard, this was one of the most fascinating CSS meetings in recent memory. For myself, having heard many of the arguments over the years on this type of issue, this meeting had many insights and scientific results that were new to me. If you didn’t catch it live, this one really is a must-see.

Jon Garvey’s talk was challenging to many participants, as many of us have been raised as Christians on the idea that the natural world is entirely “fallen”. Jon argued provocatively that Scripture doesn’t say that nature is “fallen” at all, although our relationship to it as people is. He made a convincing case that this teaching is relatively novel in Christian history, only predominant in the past 500 years or so, and we had some discussion about why this view arose. Renaissance? Reformation?

Stuart Burgess had fascinating details about his role as a senior design engineer for satellites for the European Space Agency. He pointed out that many biologists who write popular books are quick to dismiss certain elements of biological systems as bad design, who apparently have never actually designed anything or talked to real engineers. Some of the biological elements called bad design are actually ones that systems engineers value quite a bit and use in their work frequently. In fact, the trend is mostly that engineers seek to learn good design from biology. Stuart also raised the issue of living creatures that seem “well designed to kill.”

Fuz Rana gave us a very good understanding of a system often maligned as inefficient, namely the Rubisco enzyme used in distinguishing oxygen from carbon dioxide. In fact, these two simple molecules are nearly indistinguishable chemically, and Rubisco is doing its job at an optimal tradeoff of speed and accuracy. I’m pretty sure there is no synthetic way to do it better, that does not involve going to cryogenic temperatures, something obviously not an option for living systems.

Scott Minnich, by all accounts, stole the show with his talk on the black plague, presenting new, as-yet-unpublished results from his labs that show that the high mortality of the black plague can be traced back to a single mutation about 5000 years ago that caused the bacteria to lose their flagella. The human immune system is well-tuned to detect and destroy bacteria with flagella, but this mutation allows the black plague bacteria to slip under the radar and not be detected by the immune system. This finding is consistent with a view that originally, humans and parasites lived together in an ecological balance, but after the fall of humanity, some things were broken that led to imbalance and catastrophe. Scott’s work provides a strong argument for much human suffering as the result of devolution, not evolution, and also may help cure the black plague (e.g., prevent its use as a bioweapon). Not bad, Scott!

In my talk I focused on two topics. In the first, I argued that the classic “problem of evil” (how can an all-powerful and all-good God allow suffering) does not present a logical problem for the Christian, although there is much that we must accept humbly that God does not tell us. In the second part, I summarized some of the arguments in my book, that God not only created parasites and carnivores as part of his good world, but that in the rest of Scripture, he vaunts them as good, “bragging” about them, so to speak.

The panel discussion was far ranging, but one topic that comes to my mind is how our cringing at parasites may be in part due to a Gnostic/Platonist mindset that doesn’t accept that we live in an “earthy” creation with earthy bodies that are to some degree symbiotic with other organisms and not entirely under our own control.

Biblical Interpretation, Creation, Darwinism, Dysteleology, Events, Problem of evil

Schedule for the Upcoming October 24 meeting on “Is the Natural World Good or Bad?”

Christian Scientific Society Seminar: “Is the Natural World Good or Evil?”

To register for the meeting, go to this page.

October 24, 2020, Schedule (all times Eastern US time)

SESSION 1

10:00 AM  Jon Garvey, “Unfallen creation: the foundation for a biblical theology of nature”

Abstract: The thesis of God’s Good Earth is that what is often called the “traditional view” of a natural creation that fell because of human sin is neither well-supported by Scripture, nor was it ever a dominant Christian assumption until around the time of the Reformation. Leading Jewish, Patristic and mediaeval theologians often maintained the view that the natural world remains “very good,” as God formed it, and therefore they did not even have a concept of “natural evil.” Furthermore, the rather pessimistic view of nature’s goodness expressed by Charles Darwin and his scientific successors can be seen in terms of their inheriting the newer “cosmic fall” Christian view whilst secularizing it, assuming natural evil and explaining it through indifferent physical forces rather than human sin. Recovering the earlier view of the non-human creation as God’s obedient instrument for governing his world opens the way to considering a theology of nature more consistent with biblical teaching on God’s sovereignty and providence.

Bio: Born in Guildford, England, Jon Garvey studied Medicine at Pembroke College, Cambridge University, and theology at the University of Gloucester. Since 2011 his blog, The Hump of the Camel, has explored the theology of creation, attracting an extensive readership across the world, and in January 2019 Cascade published his first book, God’s Good Earth: the Case for an Unfallen Creation, followed in 2020 by The Generations of Heaven and Earth: Adam, the Ancient World and Biblical Theology.  Jon lives in southwest England, is married with three adult children and five granddaughters, is a Baptist elder, and plays guitar and saxophone semi-professionally when plagues permit.

10:50 AM  Stuart Burgess, “Defining ‘good design’ and ‘bad design’ with a case study of the recurrent laryngeal nerve”

Abstract: Various examples of claimed ‘bad design’ in nature have been given including the recurrent laryngeal nerve, panda’s thumb, human eye and human throat. However, the bad design argument is often based on the false assumption that sub-systems have just one function to perform. In reality, the optimal design of sub-systems involve meeting not just a main function but also several secondary functions and constraints. When the complete set of design requirements are considered, the best design can be quite different to what one would have assumed when considering just the main function. The claims about bad design also often involve false assumptions about how designers make choices. The presentation will define the difference between good and bad design. It will also argue that the homology we observe in nature is what would be predicted based on engineering design principles. A case study of the recurrent laryngeal nerve is used to illustrate the arguments.

Bio: Stuart Burgess is Professor of Engineering Design at Bristol University, UK, where he served three times as Chairman of the Department of Mechanical Engineering with 700 students. He is currently external examiner at Cambridge University, UK. He has published over 170 research papers on the science of design in engineering and biology. He has received several national and international awards for design including: the Turners Gold Medal for spacecraft design; Wessex Scientific Medal for bio-inspired design; Mollins Design Prize for machine design (presented by British Minister of State for Trade and Industry); and the 2019 IMechE Clayton Prize for the biggest contribution to mechanical engineering science in the UK. He led the design of the bicycle transmission for the British Cycling Team in the 2016 Rio Olympics that helped lead to six gold medals in that event.

11:40 BREAK

 SESSION 2

 12:30 PM  Fazale Rana, “Perfect Imperfections”

Abstract: Biochemical systems have the undisputable appearance of design. The question at the center of the intelligent design/creation/evolution controversy relates to the source of the design. Is it the handiwork of a Creator? Or, is it the product of unguided, evolutionary processes? Is the design authentic? Or, is it only apparent? Many biologists maintain that life’s origin, design and diversity are best explained as the outworking of evolutionary processes. As evidence for this view, they often point to so-called bad designs in biology. Why would an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good Creator produce a world characterized by imperfections? In this talk, I explore the typical responses offered by Christian theists to the challenge from dysteleology and briefly discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches. In turn, I present a framework that provides the means to interpret “bad” designs from a creation model/intelligent design perspective and illustrate this framework using select examples of often cited imperfections in biochemical systems, including the enzyme Rubisco, futile cycles in metabolism and the inefficiency of protein synthesis.

Bio: Fazale “Fuz” Rana serves as vice president of research and apologetics at Reasons to Believe, an organization dedicated to demonstrating the compatibility of science and Christianity. He earned a Ph.D. in chemistry with an emphasis in biochemistry at Ohio University and conducted postdoctoral research of cell membranes at the Universities of Virginia and Georgia. He spent seven years as a senior scientist at Procter & Gamble and has coauthored articles published in several peer-reviewed journals. Today, Fuz is author of multiple books, including Humans 2.0, and speaks on evidence for creation from biochemistry, genetics, and human origins.

1:20 PM   Scott A. Minnich, “Does the evolution of Yersinia pestis (plague) virulence provide insights into theodicy?”

 Abstract: Darwin had a problem reconciling natural design with a benevolent Creator and he used the parasitic ova-positing wasps (Ichneumonidae) and their caterpillar victims as an example.  Yersinia pestis, the etiologic agent of bubonic plague, poses an even greater problem in the arena of ‘natural evil’. It is the most virulent bacterial pathogen for man and animals. Untreated, mortality rates can reach as high as 80%.  There have been three plague pandemics in recorded history: The Justinian pandemic of the 6th Century; The Black Death of the 14th century; and the recent pandemic of the 19th-20th century.  Combined, these pandemics have killed an estimated 300 million people. What makes this bacterium so deadly?  Genomic studies show Y. pestis evolved relatively recently (~6,000 years) from its progenitor, Y. pseudotuberculosis, a self-limiting human pathogen with negligent mortality rates. This idea has been  further strengthened by genomic reconstructions of Y. pestis from DNA isolated from Bronze Age and Neolithic human skeletons.  Evolution to ‘high pathogenicity’ involved the acquisition of suites of genes by lateral gene transfer, and surprisingly, as we and others have shown, involves genetic loss. Hence, it can be argued that the ‘aboriginal’ design of the plague organism was avirulent. This scenario also applies to Darwin’s example of the Ichneumonidae. 

Bio: Scott A. Minnich received his BS in Bacteriology and Public Health from Washington State University (1975), a MS in Microbiology at the University of Idaho (1977) and a Ph.D. in Microbiology at Iowa State University (1980).  He pursued postdoctoral studies in molecular biology and microbial genetics at Purdue and Princeton before joining the faculty at University of Idaho in 1989.  Minnich’s research is centered on the molecular pathogenesis of Gram-negative bacteria.  These efforts are focused on host-parasite interactions, evolution of virulence, and novel strategies for vaccine production. Models employed for this work include Y. pestis, Y. enterocolitica, and E. coli O157:H7.  From October 2003 to May 2004, he served as a subject matter expert with the Chemical Biological Intelligence Support Team (CBIST) Detachment 3 with the Iraq Survey Group headquartered in Baghdad.

2:10 PM  David Snoke, “Considering the Problem of Evil”

 Abstract: In this talk I will consider the “problem of evil” as it is often used as a challenge to Christianity. In the first half of my talk, I will argue that while there is “mystery” involved in our thinking about this question, there is no self-contradiction or violation of logic in the traditional Christian view of good and evil. In the second part of my talk, I will summarize some of the arguments of my book, A Biblical Case for an Old Earth (Baker, 2006), that many of the things we think of as “natural evil,” such as animal death, carnivores, and parasites, are not “evil” at all in the biblical world view. Finally, I will discuss what is meant by the “curse” and the “groaning” of the natural world in the Bible.

Bio: David Snoke is professor of physics at the University of Pittsburgh. He received his bachelor’s degree in physics from Cornell University and his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and did postdoctoral studies as an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Condensed Matter Physics in Stuttgart, Germany. He heads an experimental optical spectroscopy lab funded that focuses on novel quantum mechanical effects in optics. He has authored over 160 scientific papers and has published five scientific books, including four with Cambridge University Press. In 2006 he was named a Fellow of the American  Physical Society “for his pioneering work on the experimental and theoretical understanding of dynamical optical processes in semiconductor systems.”  He has long written and spoken on the integration of Christianity and science at numerous universities and meetings.

3:00 PM  Panel discussion of the speakers

Moderated by Mark Tabladillo 

Bio: Mark Tabladillo is an apologist in Atlanta GA, and is a presenter and Atlanta chapter officer with Reasons to Believe. Mark has also been a presenter for the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement class. Mark has a professional career in data science, and his professional work has taken him to Europe, Asia and Africa. He has taught with Georgia Institute of Technology, Brenau University and the University of Phoenix.  

Apologetics, Biblical Interpretation, Dysteleology, Problem of evil

Details of the upcoming meeting on “Is the natural world good or bad?”

We are excited to announce our upcoming one-day seminar slated for this coming Saturday, October 24, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM Eastern US time. The title will be “Is the natural world good or bad?” and will address the general question of whether nature is “fallen,” and if so, what that means. Many Christians have grown up with the teaching that nature is basically a terrible thing, not “very good” as it was at Creation; many who argue for evolution also give a negative picture of the natural world as “red in tooth and claw”. We will consider this from both a theological/biblical perspective and a scientific perspective.

We will have five speakers, with a round-table discussion:

  • Jon Garvey, author of God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation
  • Stuart Burgess, professor of engineering, University of Bristol, discussing the “bad design” argument (a.k.a. the “Panda’s Thumb” argument) and whether some creatures are designed to kill
  • Fuz Rana, of Reasons to Believe, familiar to many of us as a frequent CSS speaker, on “Perfect Imperfections”
  • Scott Minnich, professor of microbiology, University of Idaho, on “Yersinia pestis (the Plague) as a paradigm to address the question of Natural Evil”
  • myself (Dave Snoke), on the general question of the Problem of Evil, and COVID

Given the great success our our web-only format last April, we will use the same technology to bring this meeting as well. Information about how to register will be coming in future newsletters. One advantage of this technology is that we can easily have two speakers from the UK!

Details on how to register online will be posted in the near future.

Apologetics, Creation, Darwinism, Events, Problem of evil, Theology