Quick notes on American Scientific Affiliation meeting, Day 3 #ASA3Org

[Sorry for the late post here – lost my laptop charger, didn’t finish the draft.  Text below is as-if this got posted on the day it happened!]

Still quite enjoying my time here – it really is a silly-small world sometimes when it comes to shared close connections with people you’re just meeting.  Again, just notes from sessions I attended today.

Plenary 1 – Gerald Gabrielse – “God Decides, We Measure”

  • Jokes that he has a wide range of personality defects which, for scientists, is not usually a problem
    • Test what I say, not me
  • Common-sense game we play that we call science, in his case to learn about a single trapped electron
    • Only three kinds of particles to make all the diversity we see in the universe
    • 10^29 electrons in my body
    • Spaced 1-inch apart would go around Earth’s equator 10^19 times
    • Crashing things together wouldn’t be a great way to determine the anatomy of chickens, but it does work for electrons
      • Electrons appear to have no size at all, no internal structure
      • But they give size to everything else
    • But somehow it does have mass and charge despite no size
      • Also acts like it is spinning even though far as we can tell nothing is rotating
      • Also acts like a magnet
    • Science – make a mathematical description so we can compare prediction and measurement
    • Standard Model predicted the size of the magnetic moment of the electron
      • Most precise prediction of the Standard Model
      • Most precise numerical prediction ever made
    • Our test – suspend a single electron all by itself and keep it isolated for months
      • Lower the temperature almost to absolute zero
      • Probe the quantum signatures
    • As a Calvinist, it’s humorous that reality is random at its core. Helps me be a little less deterministic.
    • Science – just when you think you understand something, you probe a little deeper, and there is another layer of the onion
    • Prediction – Charge of the electron has an electric dipole moment
      • We measured the roundness of the electron, a particle that has no size!
      • We found the electrons were perfectly round
    • Science is a game with rules the scientists agree upon
      • Make predictions, measure to see if right or wrong
      • We never prove predictions are right, but slowly reach a consensus when we fail to disprove
      • Always some scientists are dissenters, which is good, you always need crackpots on the edge
  • It is possible to have faith that is not in God – describes the assumptions we all must make without proof
    • My colleagues have faith in nature, or humanity, or themselves
    • Gives meaning to their life and their science
    • Everyone has faith, we should stress that fact in our apologetics
    • We should identify the god-substitutes that are common
    • The difference with non-Christians then is in who or what one places faith
  • Referring to God is a little frightening
    • A god worth having must be much greater, more complicated, and more powerful than we can imagine or hope to describe
    • Scientists should know better than to think we ever really understand God given how badly we do at science
  • My god is the god of Job
    • Story is more about God and less about Job that is commonly supposed
    • Will not find more appreciation anywhere of the wonderful way that our universe is put together
  • My basic understanding of God does not come from my science
    • There are no predictions about God I can test with the methods of science
    • As a scientist, I cannot conclude that God exists or does not
    • Calvin – the Bible is the eyeglasses that God provides to us to enable us to see that God is behind the science
    • I take the Bible as literally true and try to read it as the intended genre
  • The Bible empowers my science
    • God tells Moses to call him “I am who I am”
    • Not the greatest ruler or the most powerful, no exaggeration of human characteristics is attempted. He was different.
    • The language of human experience was incapable of a good description.
  • Genesis 1 – God made everything, and made everything good
    • We quarrel about just how God made everything, especially in the US
    • That can miss the whole point
    • God breathed the whole creation. He made it for his own enjoyment, everything that came into being or remains does so because he wishes it.
    • He holds the whole world in his hands.
  • Gravity is one way – God’s gravity
    • Speaker makes some implication that the regularity of the universe is a gift
    • We call the ways God holds the world together “laws”
    • My non-Christian friends and I have no problem agreeing with the outcomes of Physics
      • God hold the universe so tightly in his hands that none of us are able to mess it up very much
      • Such agreement with non-Christians is much harder in other areas
  • The idea of a God-breathed universe is exhilarating and energizing as a scientist
    • Provides an answer to – why do we do science?
      • To make God happy.
      • It’s no coincidence that doing science makes some of us happy too.
      • He gets a kick of watching us unravel things (or laughs at us)
  • The master of the universe could make the universe however he wanted
    • This seems to be more obvious to Christians outside the US
  • God decides, we measure
    • No fear principle – Christians doing science have every right to expect their science will not produce results that contradict their faith
    • There are many things I don’t understand about my science and my faith and how those fit together
      • The Incarnation
      • The Cross
    • Lack of understanding in Physics does not tempt me to abandon the methodology of Physics
    • I think the New Earth will be a place where we can pursue science with more clarity of purpose and without the distractions we now suffer
      • No grant proposals!
  • No contradiction between doing science and praying
    • His son survived cancer – he is grateful to his doctors and grateful to God
    • Relied upon a faith in God who was not just the master of the universe, but willing to listen to me
  • God decides, we measure – know our humble place in God’s universe
    • God’s spaceship Earth has been placed in our care
    • (Silly hyperbolic political comments here, too bad)
    • Science is required for good government and for pleasing God
  • Qs – can you explain how a particle can have no size and a shape?
    • No
    • We explain complex things by making reference to a simpler thing we all agree upon, and sometimes that just isn’t possible in fundamental physics
  • Q – how did you bottle the electron?
    • Electrons are negatively charged
    • Put other negative charges above and below
    • Put a magnet with a vertical magnetic field
    • This makes the charge go in a circle
    • So it’s not an isolation relationship, we’re coddling the electron
  • Q – what do you mean that other disciplines God holds less tightly?
    • Physics has a doctrine of right and wrong – I can say your measurement is wrong
    • That’s why I sometimes think there are more Christians in physics departments than in divinity schools
    • Social sciences are more loosey-goosey than the natural sciences in this way
  • Q – did you give your pet electron a name?
    • First time he did this, planned to name the electron at its birthday party, but they lost the electron
  • Q – how can we bring better philosophical understanding into Physics?
    • We need professional philosophers and theologians who take seriously the idea that everyone has faith
    • But the language is even objectionable
    • We should explicitly identify each other’s faith assumptions
  • Q – maybe the electron is just too small for us to measure?
    • If I were the creator of the universe people would be made out of metal, soft materials are obviously a bad idea

First Sunday Concurrent Sessions – Teaching Faith and Science – Reading Genesis

Dick Fischer – “Toward a Retranslation of the Genesis Text”

  • New discoveries make the case for adjusting the translation of Genesis to make it clear it is a story about Semitic history, not human history
  • The context is a few thousand years ago, humans have been here for much longer
  • Genesis would likely have been a first-read for new converts in the early Church
    • Gentile believers had no reason to think that Jewish history wasn’t their history too
  • Suggests parallels between Biblical accounts and some Egyptian creation stories
  • Edin is an Akkadian word that means something like “plain”, and is essentially the land between rivers
  • Many comments about historical location named Eridu
  • Akkadian Legend of Adapa, suggests many parallels
    • Adapa could be Adamu from the Assyrian king list
    • The “u” is often dropped when Akkadian words are carried into Hebrew
  • Had picture of ancient altar, perhaps Adam himself used this altar
  • Lots of speculation paralleling Biblical account to Sumerian accounts
  • Mentions Genesis flood account parallels with Atrahasis, Gilgamesh, etc..
    • Passed over all this stuff much too quickly to make a serious argument
  • Suggests fountains of the deep were stopped actually refers to the destruction of an irrigation system
  • The flood was an event that terminated nearly all of Adam’s descendents
  • Genesis is not supposed to be the history of the entire human race
    • It is about the origins of the Semitic race
    • Josephus suggested Cain would encounter other people already settled
  • “Adam” should be translated as a specific name, not to mean “mankind”
    • Use “land” instead of “earth”, “fountain” instead of “mist”
    • The flood was not the termination of mankind but the termination of the Adamites
    • “I will destroy Adam’s descendents”
  • Babel – the whole land had one language.
    • Never in all human history was only one language spoken
    • The whole land was of one lip
      • The topic of building ziggurats
    • Has revised Genesis 1-11 on his webpage already
  • But the imago dei?
    • I don’t think this is a birthright. It went to the Israelite nation.  Jesus had it.  Not all humans ever represented God.  We represent Christ, who represented God.

Patrick S. Franklin – “Learning from Bonhoeffer to Read Genesis Theologically”

  • The way we read scripture today is captive to modernity
    • Kant – only truth that can be ascertained by all human beings by rational methods can be considered to fall within the domain of truth
      • Then we get to scientism
      • Affects theology as well because it rules out revelation and tradition. “We all have physics envy.”
  • Bonhoeffer doesn’t engage the text primarily with historical concerns in mind
    • A theological interpretation that keeps theological concerns primary
    • Reading the Bible is an inherently theological practice
    • Reading in light of Jesus Christ
    • Reading canonically
    • Reading as an ethical task
  • Genuine human community
    • Humans were created to find final community in God
    • Humans are a contingent lifeform, community arises within this reality
    • Centrality of trees point us to the source of wisdom, knowledge, life
      • Represent God, fulfill the functions that properly belong to God alone
    • Adam does not infer any particular claim for himself from the fact that Eve came from him, but sees that he is bound to her in a new way
      • In the Bible, freedom is not something people have for themselves, but something they have for others
  • Taking Genesis as an historical account bring up many troubling questions, reading it theologically gets rid of all of these
    • The desire to rule in the semblance of service, to be a creator in the semblance of being a creature
    • Refers to Luther’s notion of the heart curved in on itself – Gollum
    • When I’m God, all of you are my subjects – the loss of community

Nicolas Daffern – “Adam, Darwin, and the Rest of Us: Assessing the Doctrine of Original Sin in Light of the Theory of Evolution”

  • The Church is the best host for this kind of interdisciplinary conversations
  • Chesterton – original sin is the only part of Christian theology that can really be proved
    • But a challenged doctrine – historical Adam
    • Account of the origin of sin generally and our own sinfulness
  • Historical Adam
  • Event of the fall
  • Spread of death
  • Different accounts of original sin: merely symbolic, corruption-only, corruption and guilt: federalism, corruption and guilt: realism, mediate views
  • Three questions
    • What can science teach us about a historical Adam?
    • What can science teach us about how we are related to Adam?
    • What can science teach us about what changed at the event of the Fall?
  • Science can’t tell us much about how – God could have picked two people out of a population or created them ex nihilo
  • Possible we are related to Adam, but not possible that we are solely derived from Adam
  • Physiological change has been gradual, not dramatic
    • Gives examples of gradual physiological change – evolution
    • Gives brief argument for evolution (physiological traits that serve no function in us but did in ancestral animals)
    • Increase in hominid brain size
    • Pseudogenes
      • Non-functional
      • 60% of olfactory genes
      • Mutations in our genes and ape pseudogenes show a shared lineage
    • We descended from a population and not two sole progenitors
      • We can back-calculate population sizes
      • Early human population bottleneck was in the thousands
    • However, it is quite possible that everyone alive now has a relationship to some common ancestor
      • Y-chromosome-Adam and a mitochondrial Eve, 100,000 years ago
  • To do:
    • Define what it means to be human. Theological and biological definitions?
    • Determine how the transition to being human occurred.
    • Clarify what parts of our world are the result of the Fall. What is unique about human death?
    • Articulate our relationship to Adam, the spread of death, and the passing on of the image of God.

Plenary 2 – Gayle E. Woloschak – “Perspectives on Life and Creation”

  • Things from biology that we should reflect on theologically
  • Nothing in biology makes sense without evolution
    • Quote – it is obvious that evolution as a process has gone on in the history of the Earth, but the mechanisms need study.
    • In the broadest sense, evolution is just change
      • Biological evolution has a particular definition
    • Darwinian principles
      • Common ancestry for all life
      • Species develop through variations in form
      • Natural selection selects variations and drives speciation
      • Extinction is a part of natural selection
    • Really dislikes attempts to discuss social evolution as survival of the best culture
    • NIH Genbank
  • Humanity in context
    • We share elements with the earth
    • We share genes with other species
    • We are also unique
      • Creativity is not programmed, cannot be justified
      • We are the part of the creation that contemplates
  • Talks about the bizarre results of twin studies
    • Will be extremely difficult to disentangle genetic and environmental effects
  • Implications of evolution
    • Creation is ongoing, perhaps eternal
    • “Natural laws” evolve with time
      • Gift from God, they help us to be predictive
    • Extinction is natural
    • Life/death cycle is necessary for evolution
  • Define life: grows, responds to environment, cellular structure, metabolism, heredity, homeostasis, reproduce
    • Maybe life is that which evolves
  • Evolution and genetics
    • Shows circular tree of life with sequenced genomes
    • Every single genome sequence that has been done verifies that evolution has occurred
    • Circle – we are also best evolved for the environment we are living in
    • Genetic code – everytime a uuu a pheynl gets put in
    • Exception – mitochondria
      • Structures in the cytoplasm, have their own circular DNA like bacteria
      • Chloroplast also has its own DNA
      • Theory that they were a bacteria that came to live inside a cell
      • They have a different genetic code
    • Different species evolve at different rates
      • Maybe environment didn’t change, maybe genetics didn’t allow rapid changes
    • What do genetic sequences tell us?
      • Genetic code is common to life on earth
      • The more related organisms are, the more alike their gene sequences are
      • Genes provide support for standard taxonomical methods
      • Similarities are explained by genetic similarities
      • Different species evolve at different rates
      • Species often have rudimentary organs that are reminiscent of their origin
        • Wisdom teeth – the teeth got sacrificed for a big brain
    • Evolution is tightly linked to ecology
      • Ecology – the study of managing a household
      • Interactions between organisms and their environment are important for both
      • Failure to accept evolution leads to a failure to understand the links between organisms and their environment
      • Adam names the animals
        • It shows responsibility. In her tradition, she named her godchildren.  It isn’t about ownership, it’s about responsibility.
    • Theological reflections
      • We humans are not just about our genetic heritage, but also about a culture we pass on to others.
      • Quotation about cultural evolution transcending biological evolution.

Final Sunday Concurrent Sessions – Science as Understanding Creation 4

Dillard Faries – “Global/Local Explorers of God’s Creation: No Wheaton College Nobel Scientists, but Some Great Near Misses”

  • Millikan – son of College Church Pastor
    • E Union and N Blanchard is where Silas Millikan lived
    • 1921-1923 Nobel prizes were remarkable
    • Joke about Millikan’s wife (I think) telling guests he was “watching an ion” – they thought he was a great husband to be doing the “washing and ironing”
    • Literary, Classics, Science were the three tracks at Wheaton in early 1900s
  • 225 west franlklin street is where Edwin Bubble was in 1900
    • Hubble’s brother went to Wheaton for a year
  • Was some thought of renaming Wheaton after William Jennings Bryan, Bryan College, didn’t happen
    • And take the money
  • Edwin Hubble was on the basketball team at the University of Chicago
  • “Physicists don’t know any better than to try chemistry”
  • Jesus saves but Millikan takes the credit

Bruce J. Hrivnak – “An Observation Study of Evolving Stars”

  • We can measure the luminosity and temperature of stars relatively easily
  • Size and mass we can figure out by interactions with other stars
  • Shows Hertzsprung Russell diagram
    • Stars didn’t fall just anywhere, 90% fall on main sequence
  • Graph, calculated evolution of stars like the sun
    • We have observed stars in different phases of evolution
      • Except we don’t see proto-planetary nebula
        • Well, they would be dark
        • Also a short-lived phase (~1000 years)
      • But now we have found some
        • Short lifetime, partial obscuration by gas and dust, indistinguishable from normal stars in light surveys
      • Key to discovery – infrared survey
        • Also four filters to allow you to determine the temperature of the source
      • Then we looked with visible telescopes
        • Sometimes couldn’t see anything
        • Sometimes saw a star – now we could start to investigate properties
      • Led to studies of central star and surrounding nebula
        • Chemical compositions
        • Variability of star
        • Shape of the nebula
          • What shapes, and why? The stars were spherical
          • Shares example of bipolar nebula from Hawaii camera
        • So, get time on the Hubble Space telescope
          • Shared some really impressive Hubble images afterwards
          • Cotton candy nebula, silkworm nebula
        • Why bipolar shape?
          • Torus and lobes, actually seen in one case with the Hubble
        • Variability in the central star
          • A long term study project you could easily involve students on
          • Determine a radial velocity and intensity oscillation with a 100 day period, pulsating