Quick notes on American Scientific Affiliation meeting, Day 2 #ASA3Org

Concurrent sessions today, so these notes are particularly based on the sessions I attended.  Having a stupendous time, and everyone I have met is very nice.  (True, the Canadians I had dinner with did look at me for saying “Toron-toh” instead of “Toron-tah”, but what can you do.)

Morning Session – We Believe in Creation 1

Clarence Mennings, “Introduction”

What is it like to be a Christian and a scientist at the same time?

  • We know that God exists and wants to be found
    • He is the creator and governor of the universe
  • “By faith we understand the universe was made at God’s command”
  • “The son… sustaining all things by his powerful word”
  • “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made”

What is the relationship between God and his creation?

  • Belgic confession – “We know him by two means: first, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most elegant book…”
  • John Calvin – “We know God, who is himself invisible, only through his works…. This is the reason why the Lord, that he may invite us to the knowledge of himself, places the fabric of heaven and earth before our eyes, rendering himself, in a certain manner, manifest in them”
    • “For men are commonly subject to these two extremes; namely, that some, forgetful of God, apply the whole force of their mind to the consideration of nature; and others, overlooking the works of God, aspire with a foolish and insane curiosity to inquire into his Essence. Both labor in vain.”
    • “For God — by other means invisible — (as we have already said) clothes himself, so to speak, with the image of the world in which he would present himself to our contemplation.”
    • “Moses makes two great luminaries; but astronomers prove, by conclusive reasons that the star of Saturn, which on account of its great distance, appears the least of all, is greater than the moon. Here lies the difference; Moses wrote in a popular style things which without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labor whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend. Nevertheless, this study is not to be reprobated, nor this science to be condemned, because some frantic persons are wont boldly to reject whatever is unknown to them. For astronomy is not only pleasant, but also very useful to be known: it cannot be denied that this art unfolds the admirable wisdom of God.”

How does science fit in with all this?

  • Natural science is a particular way to study the universe
  • We have basic convictions
    • The universe is an ordered entity
    • We humans can perceive that order, at least in part
    • Our perception takes the form of a tentative explanation, interaction, cause-effect explanation
    • Our explanations are then tested by observation
  • (I appreciated that the speaker said that he also tries to avoid “prove”, preferring to speak of evidence is support of or in contradiction to)
  • We who are trained in science have some obligation to the people who are not
  • Many people understand the world as they first learned it in 6th grade
    • People think, for example, that is is obvious that the Earth revolves around the sun
    • Really?  Ask most college freshman what the evidence for that fact is… it doesn’t look like that
    • Remember these ideas was violently opposed by some when they were first proposed
    • It takes some time for the seeping of ideas into the general knowledge of the world for a scientific idea to become accepted
      • Be patient and gentle

Terry M. Gray, “A Confusion of Categories: Theistic Evolution, Evolutionary Creation, Biblical Evolution…”

  • For members of ASA, creation is not a controversial question, we are all creationists
    • God created the heavens and earth, and continues to preserve world he has created
    • This sets ASA members apart from secular scientists
    • Evolutionary creationists and YEC have more in common with each other than the evolutionary creationists have with secular biologists
      • Sadly, some scientists who are Christians won’t join the ASA because we also accept young earth creationists
      • Creation is fundamental and noncontroversial
      • The ASA Statement of Faith says that God has endowed creation with intelligent order
    • Some Christians mix the doctrine of creation with certain scientific claims and vice versa
      • Bube singled out YEC which used certain interpretations from Genesis to interpret the age of the Earth, etc.
      • He said they had a confusion of categories
        • The doctrine of creation is a theological category
        • Questions of science are in the scientific category
      • The doctrine of creation is derived from scriptures, answers big questions about God, doesn’t answer our modern technical questions, which weren’t the questions of the original audience, and scripture is available to all people of all times
      • Questions of age and mechanism are relatively modern and technical, didn’t even exist until recently, wouldn’t mean anything to the ancient audience or even almost modern audiences
      • Let’s not make the distinction over-strong, some natural theology can be in there – we look at the world and see how God acted, but most of the priority on scripture
      • We don’t want to mingle our theological doctrines with the practice of science
        • Don’t argue for a young earth from scripture, that’s a confusion of categories
      • Thus, the doctrine of creation can be compatible with whatever science comes up with
  • We don’t speak of theistic physics or biochemical creationism, we just use those words when we’re speaking about the age of the earth and evolution. Why?  Because we have a sense of the confusion of categories.
    • We know the conclusions of Physics are compatible with a God who created, governs, and preserves the universe
    • So just call it biological evolution, don’t confuse the categories
    • But what about methodological naturalism? – first word refers to the science, second refers to the religion
      • The function of science is rooted in Christian beliefs, we have this foundation, and we should talk about the theological foundation in theological terms, and do science without mixing categories
  • Don’t we want a unity of knowledge though?
    • We share certain presuppositions about the world with secular scientists
    • Those presuppositions are rooted in different philosophical claims, but some common ground
      • Regularity, empiricism, intelligibility, including use of math, objectivity – it’s a real world out there, curiosity, awe
    • Christian scientists find these presuppositions to be consistent with their theology
      • Atheists accept them as just the way the world is
        • That’s the experience we have when we look at the world
    • For the Christian, chemistry, physics, are all creational. So it becomes redundant to describe them as such, like theistic chemistry/
      • The ordinary practice of science where we don’t have to talk about God, the ordinary practice of science is Christian
      • The doctrine of creation undergirds this but we don’t have to say it
        • Six days or not is a theological question
        • Age of universe is a scientific question
          • The notion of apparent age is allowing the science to speak while, in the end, the theological view trumps it
          • In a sense there is no theological controversy
    • What about evolutionary creationism? Preferred word of Biologos.
      • Doesn’t this suffer from the same problem?
      • EC believe God created and sustains all things, accept evolution as the best explanation
      • EC is neither science nor theology
      • But an explanatory system that seeks to incorporate the best of both
      • The Bible doesn’t teach evolution, and the study of evolution doesn’t really inform our doctrine of creation
  • Questioner emphasis the importance of figuring out what someone means when they use a word like “evolution”
  • Could be dangerous to have such a strict demarcation that one field cannot touch the other
    • Speaker – practice of science emerges from our doctrine of creation, but it’s still the practice of science

Jonathan Bryan, “Divine Action and the Sacramental Principle in the Science-Faith Dialogue”

  • One of our fundamental problems is satisfactorally reconciling matter and spirit – divine action – what do we mean when we say God affects some activity?  Various ideas have been proposed.
    • Manipulation of quantum uncertainties
    • Transmission of pure information
    • Dual double agency
    • Panentheism – nature is inseparable from divine action
    • Pneumatological naturalism
    • The world as God’s body
    • God’s will as agency of the divine will affects outcomes in nature
    • Divine kenosis – “divine inaction”
  • Causal joint
    • This is the theoretical nexus at which a nonphysical God could affect physical processes
    • How does uncreated reality affect the material world?
  • Problem with divine action models
    • It doesn’t matter, in all cases the precise nature of the point of contact between God and natural processes is scientifically unknowable
      • A transcendent creator is truly other than the material creation
  • But, the ontological gap between matter and spirit doesn’t mean they are unrelated
    • But it is a metaphysical and theological problem
    • We must understand matter as more than mere matter
  • There is a theological component
    • It may help to incorporate the concept of the sacred
    • A sacramental understanding of the world
  • Mircea Eliade
    • Some idea of the sacred is common to all religions
  • If something is sacred…
    • Set apart, dedicated, consecrated, holy, sanctified, hallowed
    • Because the sacred thing carries and communicates some non-material truth to us in a way we can at least partly apprehend by our normal senses
    • Augustine – carries a hidden meaning
    • Eliade – a sacred thing embodies something other than itself
  • Sacramental logic
    • Without ceasing to be a natural phenomenon, the object becomes more than just natural
    • Natural and spiritual aspects cannot be separated
    • Not just a symbol, because sacramentals participate in that which they signify
  • Examples of the sacred in scripture
    • Numbers 16:35-40, censers were holy, must be treated in a certain way
    • Jesus – which is greater, the gold, or the temple that has made it sacred?
  • Sacramental principles gives us some idea how to connect matter and spirit
    • Sacred object, personal memento or family heirloom, worthless but it means a lot
    • Flag, is it just fabric?, focal point of sentiment
      • American legion ritual destruction of the flag
    • Crucifix
    • Handshake – a sacred action, or just two primates touching?
    • Salute
    • Baptism
    • “I love you”
    • Declaration of Independence
    • This is my body
  • All these examples are sacred because they are carriers of real and irreducible truth, beauty, power. Material manifestations of transcendent realities.
    • Sacramental worship nurtures a sense of the divine in otherwise ordinary creatures
    • Material vectors of divine grace
  • We must recover an archaic ontology that all the cosmos participates in a reality that transcends it
  • Sacramental ontology – an understanding of reality sacramental in character
  • General sacramental in scripture
    • Genuine divine presence, participation in what are otherwise natural processes
    • God feeds the heavenly birds
    • “You give them your food in due season”
  • Pneumatology and the nature of life
    • Strong association in scripture between wind, breath, voice, holy spirit, life
    • Holy spirit, the Lord, the giver of life
    • The breath of life (respiration?) is sacramental, a real presence of the life giving spirit of god
      • You won’t detect that scientifically
    • The incarnation
      • The ultimate significance of a historical process
      • Human life became a vehicle of divine life
      • Creator participates fully in the material creation
    • The cruciform fabric of the ecosphere
      • The necessity of sacrificial death for life
      • Life is a passion play – a tragic sacrificial but redemptive structure
      • The death of stars is necessary to form the elements of life
      • Foundational to the Levitical system
      • Grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies
      • Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it
      • The cruciform principle is inherently integrative, spiritual and biological, sacramental
      • Cruciform Christology – all creation is participating in the cruciform fabric
    • Sacral imperfections
      • Man born blind so that the works of God can be revealed in him
    • DA and the Sacramental Principle
      • Scientific explanations will always be incomplete descriptions of the world
      • Sacramental principle weds matter and action

Afternoon session – Digital Technology 1

Timothy P. Wallace – “The Cyber Problem: History, Outlook, and Responses”

  • Computing – is it friend or foe?
    • Unreliable aircraft software
    • Insecure medical devices
    • Identity theft
    • Credit card fraud
  • Computers are ubiquitous
    • Software is now too complex to well understand
    • Computers are insufficiently reliable in ordinary use
    • Public anxiety is treated with theater, not solutions
      • TSA baggage tests fail almost all the time
      • Antivirus catches less than half the attacks
  • History
    • 1940s – vacuum tubes
      • Great hardware complexity
      • Simple software
    • 1950s
      • Mainframes
      • OS never crashed
      • Reliability improved
      • Transistors begin
    • 1960s more people programmed
      • Microcomputers, more mainframes
      • OS still never crashed
      • BASIC began
    • 1970s networking and personal computing
      • Arpanet
        • Protocols assumed we were all friends
      • Unix 10k lines of code, CS students would read the code over a weekend
      • First PCs
      • First spam email (ad for a computer)
    • 1980s PCs and malicious actors
      • Internet gradually
      • IBM-PC in 1981
      • 1986 – first computer virus, MS-DOS, transmitted by floppy disk
      • Set a higher standard for software, it needed to now also survive attack
    • 1990s
      • World Wide Web
      • Microsoft became dominant
      • Windows 95 has 15 million lines of code
        • Blue screen of death
      • CD drives made boot sector viruses harder
        • First email virus in 1999
    • 2000s complexity and vulnerability
      • Windows XP 35 million lines of code
        • No one person understands
      • Wireless became popular
      • Cell phone viruses starting 2005
      • State sponsored cyber attack
    • 2010s more devices more attacks
      • Zero day attacks, anti virus is useless
      • Black market in exploits
      • Internet of things
        • Baby monitors hacked
        • Nest bug caused unheated homes
        • Hotel doors opened remotely
  • Capitalism and security
    • Capitalism is the best way to build an economy, but it doesn’t minimize risks
    • Lowest bidder not necessarily adequate security
  • OMB was hacked in 2014-2015
    • Government sponsored hackers captured the entire database (China)
  • Power grid in jeopardy
    • Russian attacks on Ukraine grid could be a dry-run for a US attack
    • Senate recently passed a bill to decrease (!) grid digitization
  • Our problem is excessive complexity
    • Creates an insecure system – not sure how everything interacts
    • We add new features but never remove any
    • Calling large software libraries
      • Could call thousand of lines of code when you might only need a dozen
    • Cell phone users are constantly downloading and using apps
  • Writing simple custom software can help
    • Computer scientists can perhaps do this easily
  • Specific tips
    • Reduce your hacking footprint
      • But if a government is after you you have no hope
    • Don’t make heavy use of insecure systems
  • Financial
    • No financial stuff on cell phone
    • Use a gift card if you want to purchase things on your phone
    • Security freeze with three major credit agencies
    • When traveling
      • Always bring two credit cards, can be compromised at any time
  • Ransomware
    • Exercise normal internet precautions
    • Have backups of important data
      • Offsite and online backups are best
      • Between backups email new documents to IMAP email account
  • Passwords
    • Password managers have some merit, but rely on computers
    • Password recovery
      • Palin’s email was hacked using recovery question
      • So make up false answers
  • The Developer Perspective
    • Professional codes of ethics are great but rarely followed
    • Proverbs 22:29, Colossians 3:23, James 3:1
      • “Not many of you should become software developers”
    • Management issues
      • Managers who don’t believe the risks are serious can be the biggest problem
  • Conclusion
    • Situation isn’t good
    • Important to educate people on the issue
    • Not all hardware and software than can be developed should be

Heather Champion – “Algorithms and Cosmos: Theological Reflections on the Freedom and Limit of Human Technology of the Mind”

(This speaker read her talk, and I did find it a little hard to follow, so just a couple of notes.)

  • Algorithms can model better by discretizing space and time
    • Example Monte Carlo algorithms to plan for dosing of patients
    • A solution to a macroscopic system though simulation of its microscopic actions
    • Large scale models do exist but are actually less accurate
  • Exploring the limits of computation is part of understanding creation
    • Coming up with the algorithm itself should be seen as a discovery

Michael J. Paulus Jr. – “AI and the Apocalypic Imagination: The Ends of Divine, Natural, and Artificial Agency”

  • New information tech is changing our self-understanding and how we relate to the world
    • AI tech is at the center of this revolution
    • AI raises many new ethical questions
      • The apocalypse and second coming at the same time
  • Information Revolutions and Revelation
    • Information abstraction (~100000 years ago)
      • Ability to imagine a world other than the one we saw
      • Language, possibilities, plans, stories, social systems
      • Spirituality, good and evil
    • Information agencies (~10000 years ago)
      • Earliest cities
      • Political, economic, religious institutions
      • Cities – a complex future-oriented technology extending human agency in space and time
    • Information artifacts (~5000 years ago)
      • Written communication
      • Archives and libraries
      • Anticipatory religions, awakening to a future fulfillment of the universe
    • Information automations (100 years ago)
      • What should human agency look like in this world?
  • AI Types
    • Narrow AI: specific goal
    • General / human-level AI: good as humans
    • Super-intelligent AI
    • AITheists – AI is just regular computing
    • Singulariatian: AI will become ASI
  • The apocalyptic imagination
    • Most see the future as the product of the present, but Christians see the present as driven by what is ahead
    • Opportunities for theological reflection for alternative future scenarios
    • Apocalypse is about overcoming the present sorrows and realizing the future promise
  • The Future of Work
    • Some jobs obsolete, new jobs, changing most jobs
    • Reasons for work outside of compensation
      • Is there a deeper meaning to work itself
      • Sayers – the natural exercise of the creature made in the nature of one’s creator
      • The thing one lives to do, the full expression of the worker’s faculties
      • The medium in which one offers oneself to God
      • Divine and human work link the beginning with the end

Afternoon Session – Science as Understanding Creation 2

Hugh Ross – “Testing Biblical Creation Accounts with the Latest Science”

Note — Hugh Ross is an “old earth creationist” who essentially believes the Biblical account is accurate, except the “days” in Genesis actually represent very long periods of time.

  • Ross is the founder of Reasons to Believe
  • Genesis 1:1 – creation of the physical universe
    • “the heavens and the earth” means “universe”
    • Phrase used 9 times in ot
  • Alexander Vlenkin – there is no longer the possibility of a past eternal universe.
    • Everyone must reckon with the problem of a cosmic beginning
    • So there must be some causal agent beyond space and time
    • A miracle working god must exist
  • Genesis 1:2 establishes a point of view – an observer on the surface of the waters
    • That is, below the cloud layer, above the ocean
    • Other parallel accounts in scripture
    • Job creation account is most detailed with regard to science content
    • I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness
      • Dark because the clouds would not let light pass through
      • There was light outside the clouds
        • Atmosphere was much thicker originally
        • So the atmosphere transformed from opaque to translucent
  • “let there be light
    • There was already light but it was now allowed to reach the surface
    • Now we have the origin of life
  • Water in the sky and water below 1:3
    • Bountiful, stable water cycle created
    • All of Job 37 and first half of Job 38 are about this day
    • 6 different kinds of precipitation mentioned
    • Moon-forming event stripped away nearly all of Earth’s atmosphere
  • Let dry ground appear
    • Earth is no longer a water world
    • Crucial to recycle the nutrients advanced life will require
    • Textbooks use to say continents had always been here – but this was just an assumption
      • New plate tectonic model said – actually, the continents grew over time
      • This is the new consensus – Earth was originally a waterworld or very small islands
      • Proposal that growth of the continents is stimulated by oxygen in the atmosphere
  • Let the land produce vegetation
    • Shermer always go after Genesis 1 when they debate
      • We get animals in the oceans first, vegetation on the land later, clearly Genesis is wrong
      • Ross used to suggest that vegetation just didn’t fossilize well
      • Recent Nature publications say that vegetation was abundant on the continents before the appearance of life in the oceans, isotope evidence and then fossils
  • Let there be lights in the sky
    • Atmosphere went from translucent to transparent
      • Physicist experiment, atmosphere is so hazy with low oxygen content that you can’t see objects in the sky
  • Let the waters teem with living creatures
    • Emergence of small sea animals
    • Oxygen jump immediately led to decently large animals
  • Let birds fly above
    • Creation of birds (soulish animals generally)
      • Human exceptionalism, but birds/mammals/higher reptilians are also special, we can tame them, designed by God to relate to us and serve and please us
  • Then creation of land animals
    • But, specifically mentioned are the soulish animals
      • Animals necessary for civilization
      • Text does not describe the first mammal
      • Side story – when Ross was in undergrad a student would bring his lion routinely to class!
        • Lion wanted to be where everyone was looking
  • Creation of humans (spiritual)
  • Audience Questions
    • Ross – God inspired scripture in a way to communicate to all generations
      • Text is silent on protons and neutrons, Neanderthals
      • 1 Peter 1 – there is material in the Bible designed to be understood by future generations
      • So Moses understood this, and so do we
    • Hebrew word for soulish refers to animals that can form relationships with each other and humans – any animal that will sacrifice in an emotional way for its young or bond with a human being
    • Day two is when you get the water cycle – the water was already there
      • God did create all matter energy space and time
      • When water first appeared on Earth we don’t know from the Bible’s perspective
    • Ross – last eight chapters of Ezekiel are a mystery to everyone. Maybe we’ll understand it in the future.
      • Theologians won’t go unemployed anytime soon
    • Water is the third most abundant molecule in the universe – the universe is soaking wet
      • But if a planet has too much water, ice layer at bottom, no contact between water and ice, so no life

Ronald T. Myers – “Review of the Physical Basis of Fine Tuning”

(Just a couple notes here because I also found this talk hard to follow – his big idea was to review physical constants that are supposedly fine-tuned and talk about how new research shows that maybe, maybe, the universe could exist with less fine-tuning on those constants than was previously thought.)

  • Any apologetic is only as good as the science behind it
  • Universe wide fine-tuning
    • basic equations
    • physical constants
    • dimensionality of universe
    • initial conditions of big bang
    • existence and stability of energy sources (stars)
  • Baryon/photon ratio
  • Four force constants
  • Electron/proton and neutron/proton mass ratios
  • Life needs starts
  • Stability is needed for life to develop by naturalistic means and continue to exists
  • Biophilic elements are needed for life: hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen
  • Life is complex
  • Suggests recent results dispute claims of fine tuning
  • Neutron/proton mass ratio
    • Need enough protons in early universe to have free hydrogen.
  • EM v strong nuclear force
    • Diproton disaster – protons combine to form helium, no hydrogen
    • Other way, need stable deuterium in starts for stable stars
  • Weak nuclear force
    • Weaker, all hydrogen goes to helium
    • Stronger, neutrinos suppress supernovas
  • Electron/proton ratio v. EM forces
    • Too large ratio, no ordered structures
    • Too small, no stars
  • New journal articles make biophilic elements by different nucleosynthesis paths
    • Papers suggest strong force up to 1.5 x stronger , diprotons yes, but not a problem because photo-disassociated in the early universe
  • Weak force
    • If stronger, get stable tritium, still gets stars
    • Simulated work
  • EM v gravity
    • Nuclear burning constant
  • Unchallenged
    • Dimensionality
    • Electron/proton ratio
  • Question from Hugh Ross – life is very intolerant to heavy hydrogen. Have they taken that into account?
    • Kinetic-isotope effect – kinetics of deuterium are different because it is twice the mass. Enzymes don’t really treat hydrogen and deuterium the same.  In biochemistry, kinetics are critical.  Doubling the mass of all the hydrogen in your body is not a trivial thing.

Robert Bishop – “Randomness and Order in God’s Creation”

  • Apparent randomness
    • Randomness due to limitations on knowledge
    • Roulette wheels – they really are deterministic but you don’t know enough to predict them
  • Irreducible randomness
    • Physical conditions determine only the probabilities of outcomes
  • There is no lawless chaos in the universe
  • Radioactive decay is an example of irreducible randomness
  • A trinitarian doctrine of creation can help us put randomness in perspective
    • The Father gifts creation with order
    • All things are created through and sustained by the Son
    • The Spirit enables/energizes all things in creation to function in their callings
      • Example Psalm 104:10-18
      • Interspersed claims of God watering, and the springs watering
    • Three possibilities
      • Only apparent randomness
        • Everything is deterministic
        • Option is fully consistent with deism
        • But where is the love?
          • Implies that the object of love must have some freedom to participate in that love relationship
      • Irreducible randomness according to scientific descriptions
        • God continually actualizes all or most outcomes
        • God establishes the probabilities
        • God also actualizes when any particular nucleus undergoes a radioactive decay to fulfill the pattern
      • Irreducible randomness as a divine means of working in creation
        • Father established the probabilities
        • Spirit enables irreducibly random processes to genuinely participate in divine purposes
        • The probabilities are a means in which God is at work, but the work of the creation is also real
          • We work through irreducible randomness all the time
            • Medical treatments
            • Nuclear power
            • We accomplish our purposes, so certainly God can too
            • So whatever randomnesss is still part of God’s providence

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