Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology compiles religion and science resource master list

The Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology (LAFST) has introduced a new resources section on its website.

These resources may prove useful in organizing or facilitating discussions regarding Christian faith and science.  Most of the web links connect to other sites. Included in the grouping are curricula, information on religion and science organizations, science videos, and essays produced by the ELCA. Another distinct grouping is in the area of religion and science books, which represent a good overview of some of the more popular titles geared toward those just learning about some of the key topics related to faith and science.

Inclusion of any items in this resource list does not constitute endorsement by either the Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science, and Technology, or the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), but the steering committee of the LAFST produced the list in the hopes that the material will find its way into church congregations, Sunday Schools and discussion groups. The new section contains nearly 60 links to various websites.

New book explores a ‘theology of cancer’

A new book from Leonard Hummel and Gayle Woloschak explores more than what cancer is — it looks for God is in the complex evolutionary development of all cancers.

Published by Cascade Books, the book was released in July. Leonard Hummel is Professor of Pastoral Theology and Pastoral Care and Director of Supervised Clinical Ministry at Gettysburg Seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, while Gayle Woloschak is a Professor of Radiation Oncology at Northwestern University in Chicago and Associate Director for the Zygon Center for Religion and Science at the Lutheran School of Theology Chicago.

In Chance, Necessity, Love: An Evolutionary Theology of Cancer, Hummel and Woloschak look at the questions that often arise for many cancer patients and all who grapple with making meaning of science about cancers. The authors look at new scientific findings about cancer and then offer faithful and wise theological perspectives on these discoveries. Hummel and Woloschak show how cancer is an evolutionary disease in that it develops according to the same dynamics of chance (that is, random occurrences) and necessity (law-like regularities) at work in all other evolutionary phenomena, according to Cascade.

University of Chicago starts science and religion course this fall

The University of Chicago announced a new course within its Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies that focuses on faith and science.

The course “Science and Religion: From Confrontation to Dialogue Part 1,” will be taught on September 26 and November 14 from 6:00pm to 8:30pm. According to the course description it will deal with the issue of science and religion and “attempts to offer a richer understanding of these concepts.”

The course will review great thinkers spanning classical philosophy ages to the modern times — from Plato to Descartes. The professor for the class is University of Chicago’s Adrian Guiu.

Well-known Lutheran astronomer discovers new evidence of star formation

A research team led by Dr. Grace Wolf-Chase, an Adler Planetarium astronomer and scholar active in the religion and science dialogue, has discovered new evidence of stars forming in our Milky Way Galaxy.

The team used a telescope equipped to detect infrared light invisible to our eyes and the findings reveal how stars, including our very own Sun, grow up within clusters and groups. The findings were published in The Astrophysical Journal in a paper titled, “MHOs toward HMOs: A Search for Molecular Hydrogen Emission-Line Objects toward High-Mass Outflows.”

Wolf-Chase is a public advocate for citizen science and education, and earlier this year spoke to attendees at the Ecumenical Roundtable on Science, Technology and the Church hosted at the Churchwide offices of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). Wolf-Chase told her story of coming out of her physics studies at Cornell University thinking that faith and science couldn’t mix. As a grad student at the University of Arizona she met a remarkable group of “brilliant people who were scientists and Christians.”

She is a science consultant on the Clergy Letter project, affiliated faculty member of the Zygon Center for Religion and Science at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, vice president for Center for Advanced Study in Religion and Science (CASIRAS) and on the steering committee of the Albertus Magnus Society at Dominican University in River Forest. Her astronomy research today focuses on protostars, protostellar outflows and the impact of outflows on the evolution of molecular clouds.

The Adler team led by Wolf-Chase found huge gas clouds moving outward from areas where “baby” stars are forming, using a new way of disentangling these outflows from other processes in densely-populated stellar nurseries. These stellar nurseries can produce dozens or even hundreds of stars with different sizes and masses, according to Adler.

“The Sun, though isolated from other stars today, is thought to have formed in a cluster with many other stars, so the environments we’re studying can tell us a lot about the origin of our own Solar System,” said Wolf-Chase.

Stars form when cold, rotating clouds of gas and dust in space are pulled together by gravity into flattened “disks” that spin faster as they shrink, similar to what happens when twirling figure skaters pull their outstretched arms in toward their bodies. In order for a star to form at the center of a spinning disk, the rotation of the disk must slow down. This happens through powerful outflows of gas that are channeled into tight streams, known as “jets.”

Researchers peered into 26 dusty clouds thought to be forming clusters containing massive stars. Using a combination of infrared filters that allowed them to distinguish jets from infant stars from other types of light produced by the radiation in these massive stellar nurseries, they identified 36 jets across 22 of the regions. These results provide compelling evidence that, like their lower-mass siblings, massive stars also launch powerful jets. The jet shuts off shortly after radiation from the massive star begins to disrupt its environment.

Researchers pinpoint a connection between religion and health

A Vanderbilt University study found that people who attend services at a church, synagogue or mosque are less stressed and live longer.

The research included adult men and women ages 40-65 in examining the relationship between religiosity (i.e. church attendance) and the cause of mortality in middle-aged adults. Those who attended church or other houses of worship reduced their risk for death by 55%.

“Sometimes in health science we tend to look at those things that are always negative and say, ‘Don’t do this. Don’t do that,” said Marino Bruce, a social and behavioral scientist and associate director of the Center for Research on Men’s Health at Vanderbilt, in a university press release. Bruce is also a Baptist minister.

He added, “We’ve found that being in a place where you can flex those spiritual muscles is actually beneficial for your health.”

The study, “Church Attendance, Allostatic Load and Mortality in Middle-Aged Adults,” was published in May in PLOS ONE, a multidisciplinary open access journal, using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. The data are available to the public. Bruce is the main author of the study with Keith Norris, professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. There are nine other co-authors.

The researchers analyzed subjects’ attendance at worship services, mortality and allostatic load. Allostatic load is a physiological measurement of factors including cardiovascular (blood pressure, cholesterol-high density lipoprotein ratio and homocysteine), nutritional/inflammatory (albumin, C-reactive protein) and metabolic (waist-hip ratio, glycated hemoglobin) measures. The higher the allostatic load, the more stressed an individual was interpreted as being.

The team surveyed 5,449 people of all races and both sexes, of whom 64% were regular worshipers. Non-worshipers had significantly higher overall allostatic load scores and higher prevalence of high-risk values for three of the 10 markers of allostatic load than did church-goers and other worshipers.

The effects of attendance at worship services remained after education, poverty, health insurance and social support status were all taken into consideration. The study did not address the effects of frequency of worship.

Yale Divinity School unveils new ecology degree program for religion students

Yale Divinity School (YDS) will be accepting students this fall for a new concentrated ecology program of study in the Master of Arts in Religion (MAR) degree path.

The Religion and Ecology concentration draws on faculty resources across the theological disciplines, including biblical studies, ethics, liturgical studies, pastoral care, spirituality, theology and world religions and ecology. YDS officials added that the program spans the study of eco-theology; eco-spirituality; eco-feminism; environmental ethics; and cosmology.

The concentration builds upon the decades of work of senior lecturers Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, who most recently collaborated with the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

Religion and Ecology concentration students are also able to take “Introduction to Religion and Ecology,” a joint offering of YDS and Forestry taught by Tucker and Grim, as well as other cross-school courses including “A Communion of Subjects:  Law, Environment, and Religion” — a joint offering of Divinity, Forestry, and Yale Law School.

YDS Dean Greg Sterling described the new concentration as an expression of two of the major goals outlined in the School’s strategic plan: diversity and the effort to build a living-building residential complex.

“Some of our new faculty make the first possible, and widespread commitment of faculty to eco-theology make the second feasible,” Sterling said in a press release. “It is essential that we have a curriculum that aligns with our orientation and ambitions as a school.”

‘Artificial Intelligence and Apocalypse’ topic of two-day symposium in the UK

The Centre for the Critical Study of Apocalyptic and Millenarian Movements (CenSAMM) will hold a two-day symposium (April 6 and 7, 2018) on the topic of artificial intelligence (AI) and apocalypse and a call for academic papers is now underway.

Organizers point to the stunning defeat of elite players of the Chinese game ‘Go’ by AlphaGo, which is a Google/Deepmind program. This event was heralded by AI enthusiasts as critical proof of the strength of AI technologies. Topics that will likely be discussed at the 2018 conference include assumptions about the theistic inclinations of thinking machines, the impact of the non-human on our conception of the uniqueness of human life and consciousness, representations in popular culture and science fiction, and the moral boundary-work of secular technologists in relation to their construct, ‘religion’.

Abstracts for papers are due at the end of December. Papers may be in any disciplinary field including, but not limited to — religious studies, the arts, humanities and social sciences. Organizers say that approaches could include interdisciplinary scholarship, cross-cultural and inter-religious engagement in literature and theology, history, exegesis, anthropology, social sciences, cultural studies, political theory or theology.

Dr. Beth Singler is the conference advisor for AI and Apocalypse. She is a research associate on the Human Identity in an age of Nearly-Human Machines project. She is working with Professor John Wyatt and Professor Peter Robinson to explore the social and religious implications of technological advances in AI and robotics at the Faraday Institute for Religion and Science. She is also an associate fellow at the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence.

More information on the conference can be found at www.censamm.org.

Gallup poll finds percentage of Americans with creationist views is declining

The percentage of U.S. adults who believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years has hit a new low: 38%.

This is the lowest percentage in 35 years, but interestingly, roughly the same percentage say humans evolved, but that God guided the process. Pollsters also said that less-educated Americans are more likely to believe in creationism. The early May poll found that over 57% believe in some form of evolution — either guided by God or not — saying that man developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life.

Approximately three-quarters of Americans believe God was involved in man’s creation — whether that be the creationist view or the view of God as guiding the evolutionary process. Since 1982, Gallup says agreement with the secular view point that humans evolved from lower life forms without divine intervention has doubled.

“Most Americans believe that God had a role in creating human beings, whether in their present form or as part of an evolutionary process over millions of years,” the Gallup report reads. “But fewer Americans today hold strict creationist views of the origins of humans than at any point in Gallup’s trend on the question, and it is no longer the single most popular of the three explanations.”

There has some minor fluctuation over the years. In 2014, the Gallup organization found that more than four in 10 Americans (42%) believed that God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago. That percentage, which is measured annually by pollsters, was down from  46% in 2012, but up from 40% in 2011. Half of Americans believe humans evolved with the majority saying that God guided the evolutionary process. The percentage who say God was involved, however, is not rising and stood at 32% in 2014 (down from 40% in 2000).

Faith and science workshop on human germ-line editing coming up in October

Scientists, theologians and ethicists plan to host a unique workshop on human germ-line editing on October 6 and 7 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The event, “God and Human Suffering: Conversations on 21st Century Genetics and Our Shared Future”, is sponsored by the University of Utah: Department of Pediatrics, Division of Medical Genetics and UCEER Center for Excellence in Ethical, Legal and Social Implications; the Rocky Mountain Synod and its Utah Conference of the ELCA, Mount Tabor Lutheran Church of Salt Lake; and the Episcopal Diocese of Utah.

Questions event leaders will be pondering include: What is our shared mission as people of science, ethics, and faith? What is the role of recent dialogue regarding germ-line editing of human embryos and in the development of regulations that both promote the alleviation of suffering and protect the inherent diversity of our planet?

Speakers include: R. Alta Charo, JD, University of Wisconsin; David Grunwald, PhD, University of Utah; Ted Peters, PhD, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA; and the Very Rev. Mark Richardson, PhD. the Church Divinity School of the Pacific and Graduate Theological Union; C. Matthew Peterson, MD, University of Utah, Janet L. Williams, MD, LGC, Geisinger Health System (Danville, Pennsylvania), Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, PhD, Arizona State University.

Registration information can be found at http://godandhumangenetics-slc2017.org.

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