Quick notes on American Scientific Affiliation meeting, Day 1 #ASA3Org

I am currently at the meeting of the American Scientific Affiliation, a network of Christians in the sciences, at Wheaton College.  The meeting kicked off today, here are my *quick* notes on what happened.  I do tend to write down what is interesting to me, so this should not be taken as a comprehensive account.

Opening / Welcoming Remarks

  • This is the 74th meeting of the organization, and the 78th year of its existence.  Pretty impressive.
  • The first ever meeting of the ASA was at Wheaton.
  • There are over 300 people attending, and over 100 are first-time attendees.  I am sure being at Wheaton helping with that statistic.
  • Six nations are represented: the US, Canada, China, Australia, UK, Nigeria
  • Thought the Wheaton provost was perhaps accidentally gutsy in pointing out that any faculty hired by Wheaton have to believe in an historical Adam (and explain why that history matters).  Wonder if she realized that some of the people she was speaking to probably don’t believe that, or if she thought she was preaching to the choir.
  • Funny comment from ASA president John Wood that the Mississippi River is really close to Wheaton… to an astronomer.

Plenary Talk “Exploring Many Worlds” by Deborah Haarsma of Biologos

  • Introduction
    • Shares that remarkable photo of the Earth, as seen over the barren landscape of the Moon
    • Is especially impressed by that recent photo of the black hole – seven billion solar masses, five times the diameter of Pluto’s orbit
    • She knows a physicist who makes students cheer every time he introduces a new law of nature – oh, that’s her husband.  🙂
  • Exploring in Faith
    • A Christian approach to science means you can have something more than just a generic sense of awe
      • There is a person behind all this
    • A scientific explanation does not replace God
    • A recent Barna survey found that nearly half of church-going teens thought that the Church seems to reject much of what science tells us about the world
    • Most people aren’t especially hostile, they just see faith as an irrelevant add-on to science – if it works for you, fine, but they don’t need it
    • Funny joke about perspective.  A dog sees its owner feed him and love him and want to spend time with him, and concludes that his owner is God.  A cat sees its owner feed him and love him and want to spend time with him, and concludes that HE, the cat, is God.
    • CS Lewis quotation – by Christianity I see everything else
      • The Christian worldview frames everything that I encounter in my life
      • This is the faith we need to share with the world
  • Details about how to Explore in Faith
    • Curious investigation
      • Solomon studied plants, Adam named animals
      • There was a focus on laws, which come from a lawgiver
    • Humble truth seeking
      • Science and theology are both concerned with the search for truth
      • There is absolute truth – everyone still recognizes this when it comes to science
      • But, you have to be humble, be willing to be corrected by data you encounter
    • Co-creating
      • New star creation is still happening right now
      • God doesn’t seem to be about efficiency.  The process is slow, and much of the material is “wasted”
      • Eden was good but it wasn’t finished, man had to tend the garden, and now builds the Church.  Man is involved in creation.
    • Respect and care for fellow creatures
      • We are stewards of the planet here to represent God on Earth
      • Care for our fellow humans is of obvious importance
      • Biomedical ethics is a prime place for Christians to have a voice right now
      • Science cannot determine the right way to use what science discovers
    • Following Christ
      • Science cannot save us, cannot bring us peace and kindness
  • Exploring many worlds
    • Around 4000 planets have now been found around other stars – they are common
    • Talks about detecting planets by seeing them block the light from the star
    • Many of these planets are in locations where they could support liquid water
    • Shares the Drake equation
    • There is a spectrum of Christian opinions on extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI)
    • Gives the standard chronology of when life evolved on Earth
      • Point is that it evolved quickly after liquid water was stable
      • But remained single-celled organisms for a very long time
    • If we do find ETIs…
      • It will be a very, very slow conversation with them, given the distances
      • The translation problem might be tremendous
  • Exploring ETI
    • What would the discovery of ETI mean for theology?
    • Would it make the Bible irrelevant?
      • The Bible is unapologetically parochial – God chooses to work with the single family of Abraham, for example
      • But at the same time, makes claim that are cosmic in scope, and must be true regardless
    • How should we relate to ETI?
      • They are God’s creation.
      • Shares a quotation from Billy Graham, “I firmly believe there are intelligent beings like us far away in space…”
    • Would ETI discovery reduce human significance?
      • Human beings have an exceptional relationship with God but not necessarily an exclusive relationship
    • Would ETI change our view of the incarnation?
      • CS Lewis himself seemed to have multiple views on this
        • Narnia – Aslan is Christ on another world
        • Perelandra – Christ as human has significance for other planets
      • Perhaps humans are representatives for life everywhere (like Abraham)
    • Would ETI discovery change our view of the cross?
      • Who knows?  Answer is tied to questions like:
        • Are the aliens fallen?
        • If so, did God provide a different route for them?
      • We really can’t answer this question without talking to them.
      • We know Christ died to redeem human sin
  • Exploring creation
    • A nice comment that it is good for the Church to try to think ahead on issues of science and not just react
    • Cosmic creator, incarnate savior
  • Ended by leading everyone in singing “How Great Thou Art”.  Just your typical scientific conference then.  🙂

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