Plantinga honored with the 2017 Templeton Prize

Alvin Plantinga, an American scholar whose rigorous writings over a half century have made theism — the belief in a divine reality or god — a serious option within academic philosophy, was named the 2017 Templeton Prize Laureate.

The Templeton Prize, valued at £1.1 million (about $1.4 million), is one of the world’s largest annual awards given to an individual and honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.

Plantinga will be formally awarded the Templeton Prize in a public ceremony at The Field Museum in Chicago on September 24, where speakers will include Hamza Yusuf of Zaytuna College in Berkeley, California, Yoram Hazony of the Herzl Institute in Jerusalem, and Meghan Sullivan of the University of Notre Dame.

According to the John Templeton Foundation, Plantinga’s pioneering work began in the late 1950s, a time when academic philosophers generally rejected religiously informed philosophy. In his early books, however, Plantinga considered a variety of arguments for the existence of God in ways that put theistic belief back on the philosophical agenda.

Plantinga’s 1984 paper, “Advice to Christian Philosophers,” promoted the idea of a specific Christian philosophical vision that needed to be pursued in academia.

At the same time, he was developing an account of knowledge, most fully expressed in the “Warrant Trilogy” published by Oxford University Press (1993 and 2000), making the case that religious beliefs are proper starting points for human reasoning and do not have to be defended or justified based on other beliefs. These arguments have now influenced three generations of professional philosophers.

Indeed, more than 50 years after this remarkable journey began, university philosophy departments around the world now include thousands of professors who bring their religious commitments to bear on their work, including Buddhist, Jewish, and Muslim philosophers, according to the foundation executives.

“Sometimes ideas come along that revolutionize the way we think, and those who create such breakthrough discoveries are the people we honor with the Templeton Prize,” said Heather Templeton Dill, president of the John Templeton Foundation. “Alvin Plantinga recognized that not only did religious belief not conflict with serious philosophical work, but that it could make crucial contributions to addressing perennial problems in philosophy.”

LAFST Steering Committee member featured in NIH magazine

Ida Hakkarinen may not have a medical degree, but she has contributed to important research that was recently highlighted in the National Institutes of Health’s Medline magazine.

A longtime member of the Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology, Hakkarinen is a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and has been coping with a rare disease since 2012 called granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA for short) that falls under a broad category of vasculitis disease, which is a condition that involves the inflammation of blood vessels.

Two years after her diagnosis she agreed to participate in a research study at the NIH. She told Medline: “Having a rare disease, I wanted to contribute to the research being done in vasculitis through the use of my personal health data. I also hoped that through a clinical trial, I could benefit from having a ‘second opinion’ from a medical professional researching the disease, which might help my treatment.”

The goal of the study, which is ongoing, is to find unique biomarkers for the disease. For the NIH, it has been an opportunity to also update its patient medical record database, which will likely help patients like Hakkarinen in the future. She told Medline that she felt a duty to help educate young medical professionals about her rare disease and the importance of gathering accurate medical histories that can help in diagnosing vasculitis.

Adler’s Grace Wolf-Chase seeks to connect public science participation with faith communities

Dr. Grace Wolf-Chase, astronomer and public advocate for citizen science and education, spoke to attendees at the Ecumenical Roundtable on Science, Technology and the Church held last month at the Lutheran Center Conference Center in Chicago (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.”

Today, she spends much of her time serving the public interest in science. 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 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. She also widely promotes, through the Adler’s public education initiatives, the idea of citizen research or what is widely called citizen science.

“There is a widespread perception that one must choose between science and faith,” she said. “This false choice has dire consequences, all of which are very bad for society.”

Many people are on the verge of hopelessness because they feel that science has taken away the mystery, she adds. Her response is to encourage young people of faith to consider STEM vocations.

“We need people who know how to speak many languages to help us address the many challenges we are facing to help others to become better stewards of creation,” she added.

In the mid-1990s there was an explosion of new data in astronomy thanks to the Hubble Deep Field. So far there have been 3,000 known exoplanets and 300 Earth-sized planets circling stars discovered.

It takes a big community to look at this big data, she said. Citizen scientists extend the reach of what professional scientists can accomplish. Via Zooniverse.org, the University of Oxford and Adler are leading the way for citizen research. More than 1.5 million people participate in one or more projects. There are 59 active projects. She also highlighted a unique citizen science e-pub for kids — Kidsfrontiersin.org.

Referring to the Latin word MIRA, which means ‘to wonder’, Wolf-Chase created an acronym to move the religion and science dialogue forward.

The first letter M — stands for the need to Move people away from the God of the gaps thinking that has plagued much of the early dialogue on faith and science. Secondly, there is a need to Initiate more partnerships between clergy, scientists and educators.  R stands for Reflect, which is what communities can do in coming together for the common good. Lastly, she advocates for all parties to Acknowledge limitations.

“We need a strong dose of humility,” she concluded. “All human models are subject to error and incompleteness.”

Templeton funds a two-year reporting project on science and religion

The Religion News Foundation received a two-year $210,000 grant from the John Templeton Foundation to help inform the public about how science and religion intersect.

The “Double Helix” project is slated to result in at least 40 original news and feature story packages produced by the Religion News Foundation’s subsidiary, Religion News Service. The stories will be published at religionnews.com and will be distributed to approximately 100 subscribing and partner news outlets for republication.

According to the Religion News Foundation, the stories will investigate the religious, spiritual, ethical and philosophical implications of today’s most talked about developments in science, such as artificial intelligence, robotics, genetic engineering, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and deep-space exploration.

The team, led by Thomas Gallagher, CEO, Religion News Foundation, and CEO and publisher of RNS, will also produce four ReligionLink source guides to enhance journalistic coverage of complex issues surrounding science and religion on such topics as religion’s role in the search for extraterrestrial intelligent life, the religious and moral implications of artificial intelligence, neuroscience and religion, and animal faith.

The Religion News Foundation is an independent, nonprofit educational and charitable foundation based at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

Lutheran Alliance to host two-part lecture on CRISPR

The Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology is hosting a two-part public lecture on Friday, April 28 at the Lutheran Center in Chicago, “Being the Church in the Age of Biological Manipulation.”

The lectures are part of the 2017 meeting of the Ecumenical Roundtable for Science, Technology and the Church held on April 27-29 at the Lutheran Center. Held at 7:30pm in the Augsburg Room, interested attendees are asked to RSVP the Alliance by emailing Heather Dean (heather.dean@elca.org).

CRISPR is a precise genome-editing technology which can be viewed as a pair of molecular “scissors” guided by a “GPS” to precise locations on a DNA strand. Dr. Gayle Woloschak, professor of Radiation Oncology at Northwestern University in Chicago and adjunct professor of religion and science at the Lutheran School of Theology Chicago (LSTC) and at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, will give an overview of the technology and why it is important. Meanwhile Barbara Rossing, professor of New Testament at LSTC, will present a lecture on “Christ the Healer and the Age of Biological Manipulation.”

In June 2016, an advisory panel from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) approved a proposal from the University of Pennsylvania to use the CRISPR technique in humans to tackle three different kinds of cancer. Researchers there expect the small clinical trial to begin in 2017. In October 2016, the CRISPR technique was first used on a human subject, when Chinese scientists delivered CRISPR-modified cells into a patient with aggressive lung cancer as part of a clinical trial.

Click here for more information on the lectures.

John Templeton Foundation to support psychology of religion studies

A new grant effort underway at the John Templeton Foundation: A planning grant structured to support the rare study of religion within psychology doctoral programs.

The effort includes a workshop for early career scholars, and seed grants to support their research. Also funded is the initial stages of preparing a highly engaging undergraduate textbook in the psychology of religion area.

“Religion is a central aspect of being human, yet has largely been ignored within academic psychology since the behavioral revolution in the early 20th century,” according to the foundation’s website. The grantmaking team add that there are roughly a dozen people in tenure-track or tenured positions in research oriented universities who are willing to take graduate students who want to study religion.

The initiative is led by three prominent scholars in the psychology of religion: Adam Cohen (University of Arizona), Kevin Ladd (Indiana University) and Azim Shariff (University of Oregon). Part of the work will also be in the planning and writing of the $2.5 million field-building effort, to include funding of post-doctoral fellows and emerging faculty grants to make them competitive at top flight jobs.

New Fuller Seminary project gaining “STEAM” in promoting faith and science dialogue

More than 30 universities, organizations and churches across the United States are housing new faith-and-science oriented activities thanks to a grant project called STEAM, which stands for Science and Theology in Emerging Adult Ministries.

The project is a partnership between Fuller Theological Seminary in California and the John Templeton Foundation. The idea is to catalyze the integration of Christian faith and science among 18-20 year olds, i.e. those considered to be emerging adults, organizers say. This year project teams including scientists and pastors and other volunteers will develop and implement projects they designed engaging science and theology within their communities. The following year, 2018, the project will wind down and resources created from STEAM will be publicly disseminated.

The STEAM project has awarded grants to 31 organizations to date, including: Gustavus Adolphus College, Harvey Mudd College, Samford University, First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, Washington University in St. Louis, Lipscomb University, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, and the Arizona Center for Christian Studies.

ELCA congregation Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and Campus Ministry in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is seeking to engage students through small groups to determine if and why they feel tension between the practice of faith and the study of science. They plan on bringing in outside speakers to address the students’ concerns and to also form a mentorship network between local ministers and university scientists.

Participants at Gustavus Adolphus, an ELCA college in Saint Peter, Minnesota, are working on creating a digital storytelling platform by and for college students who are studying in STEM-related programs that will serve as a vehicle for vocational reflection, narrative theology and discussion about why and how science as a Christian vocation. A team of four science majors, mentored by a chaplain and a science professor, will create content and cultivate conversations both online and on campus with peers.

Dordt College in Iowa recently received a $25,000 grant to create online resources and multi-session learning modules that will be made available to college and post-college ministries to equip Christian young adults in tackling the complex questions at the intersection of faith and science.

Dordt Biology professor Robbin Eppinga will lead a team of college faculty, area pastors and a senior Dordt biology major. The resources will help Christian young adults anatomize questions related to cloning, medical ethics, evolution through natural selection, GMOs, climate change, and many others. However, studies will not be limited to the “hard” sciences, the team adds. Studies will also cover topics in “soft” sciences like psychology and sociology, as well as the scientific aspects of disciplines in the arts or humanities, according to Fuller Seminary website.

“The evidence suggests that as Christians, we’re not always engaging these questions very well—in our churches, in Christian schools, within families,” says Eppinga. “Many young Christians have never had a safe place to wrestle through challenging issues at the interface of faith and science, and these resources are intended to help people create that safe place to ask questions, examine evidence, and explore implications.”

Change of date for Goshen Religion and Science Conference

Organizers of the Goshen College Religion and Science Conference have pushed back to April 7-9, 2017, the dates for the annual event that attracts students, professors and others from across the Midwest to the college campus in Goshen, Indiana.

The theme is “Deep Incarnation: From Cosmos to Commitment” and the speaker will be Niels Henrik Gregersen of the University of Copenhagen. Gregersen’s three lectures are: “The Cosmic Christ: God in a World of Mass, Energy and Information;” “Christ and Biology: Creativity and Suffering in a World of Biological Agency;” and “Christ and Culture: The Jesus Story and the Cultivation of Commitment.”

Professor Gregersen received his Ph.D. in theology from the University of Copenhagen in 1987. Between 1986 and 2004 he held various faculty positions at Aarhus University, from 2000 to 2004 as research professor in Theology and Science. Since 2004, he has been professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Copenhagen.

From 1992 to 2003, he was a leader of the Danish Science-Theology Forum; 1998-2002 vice president of the European Society for the Study of Science and Theology (ESSSAT) and responsible for its publication program. In 2002, he was elected president of The Learned Society, Denmark. He is a founding member and trustee of International Society for Science and Religion (ISSR) 2002-2007.

First held in 2001, the Goshen conference has hosted well-known religion and science scholars including Philip Clayton, George Ellis, John Haught, Nancey Murphy and Phil Hefner.

New online course taught by Marcelo Gleiser brings together religion, philosophy and science

Renowned physics professor Marcelo Gleiser is teaching a new massive open online course (MOOC) named “Question Reality!”, which explores the intersection between philosophy, religion and science.

The course began on January 31 as part of DartmouthX, an initiative dedicated to expanding Dartmouth’s collection of MOOCs since 2014, in collaboration with the nonprofit online learning consortium edX.  In an interview with the Dartmouth student newspaper, Gleiser said that the course idea came from a book he wrote, “The Island of Knowledge,” that was well received. He proposed a traditional course on the interface between science, philosophy and religion and it was approved. Later on he received a grant to start the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Engagement and had funding for two MOOC productions.

While Gleiser has taught at Dartmouth for 26 years, this is his first MOOC. The course material is taught via video and then there are interviews with experts from many fields – from a classics professor talking about Lucretius to a CERN physicist talking about the search for ultimate particles of nature. Students answer multiple choice questions to make sure they are actually learning the material. MOOCs can accept thousands of students, which can make such an undertaking a unique challenge even for an experienced professor such as Gleiser. The course itself runs for six weeks and is self-paced as other MOOCs traditionally are.

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