What was behind dinosaurs’ extinction?

The Deccan Traps: View from Pabe Ghat peak. Credit: cc by Wikimedia Commons

The Deccan Traps: View from Pabe Ghat peak. Credit: cc by Wikimedia Commons

What killed off those dinosaurs? Was it the impact of a meteorite? Or gases released by enormous lava flows in India? Both suggestions have been argued for years. New data indicates that it may have been both! And the events may have been related.

A meteorite is widely recognized to have impacted northern Yucatan, Mexico, at the Cretaceous-Paleogene (KPg) boundary about 66 million years ago. Now Renne and his co-authors in the journal Science have documented a major increase in the volume of lava flows of the Deccan Traps [basaltic lavas] of India — on the other side of the globe — at essentially the same time. They suggest that seismic waves from the impact traveled literally around the world and reorganized the “plumbing” of the already erupting Traps, thus promoting much larger eruptions with massive amounts of poisonous carbon and sulfur dioxide gases released into the atmosphere.

In other words, the impact helped “open the tap” for tremendous amounts of molten rock to reach Earth’s surface. Either event alone probably could have wiped out the dinosaurs; but both so close in time? It was a veritable one-two knockout punch.

More on the Deccan Traps in the video below:

Take our Mythbusting quiz!

Take our Mythbusting quiz!

Our exclusive Mythbusting quiz was designed to be taken by youth at this summer’s ELCA National Youth Gathering in Detroit, but you too might want to take it and see if you too can get a higher score than the teens in your life. What do you know about the Big Bang, Dinosaurs and ELCA statements related to religion and science? Take the quiz and then pass it on!

Photo credit: [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0], via Flickr

‘Mythbusting’ theme for LAFST stand at ELCA National Youth Gathering in Detroit

Covalence for June 2015

The Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology (LAFST) is preparing a unique interactive booth geared to youth and youth leaders at the ELCA National Youth Gathering to be held July 15 through 19 in Detroit.

Approximately 30,000 youth are expected to attend the Gathering, which is an event that is aimed at high school-age youth and takes place every three years. The theme is “Rise Up.” According to the theological mission statement for the event, youth “will learn that to ‘rise up’ doesn’t mean pursuing power or victory over another, but choosing weakness over power so that they might be together.”

The LAFST will host a variety of youth activities as a community partner at the event and an independent Lutheran organization affiliated with the ELCA that is dedicated to expanding awareness and promoting conversation about the implications of science and technology for Christian faith and life. The group also sponsors Covalence and this website.

The theme of the booth at the Youth Gathering is “Mythbusters.” Mythbusters refers to the popular television series that uses unique experiments to “confirm or bust” popularly held myths. The booth’s version of Mythbusters is busting myths about science and faith.

Youth and their leaders are welcome to put their “I wonder” questions to the test. The mythbusting booth will feature experiments, videos and quizzes that will challenge youth to confirm or bust a commonly held myth and see how it relates to more general faith and science questions. The curious can also come and ask questions about faith and science in a video booth in addition to testing their own faith and science assumptions via quizzes. Lastly, experiments will provide a hands-on challenge, with the goal of busing or confirming commonly held science myths.

Authenticity and artificial worms

Authenticity and artificial wormsThe Open Worm project is an open source project dedicated to creating a virtual C. elegans nematode in a computer. A story about the project may be found here.

Here’s a YouTube video of the simulation:

How is authenticity viewed in the world today? It’s a world in which a computer simulation (at its base level, made up of the 0’s and 1’s of computer code) looks very much like a real, alive, nematode worm. It’s also a world in which the best product at the Computer Electronics Show is the Oculus Rift Virtual Reality prototype.

What criteria do we use to just whether something is “authentic” or “real?” Will there be a day when we won’t be able to discriminate between an artificial reality and a “real” reality? What implications might that have for our understanding of what it means to be human?

Photo credit: Open Worm Project

AAAS 2014 Annual Meeting features talks on science, religion, and modern physicists

AAAS 2014 Annual Meeting features talks on science, religion, and modern physicists One of the Symposia at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) focused upon “Science, Religion, and Modern Physicists: New Studies.” The Symposium was held February 17, 2014, and its description is: “Recent work on the religious lives and beliefs of leading physicists raises interesting questions about the interaction of science and religion in the modern period. How can religious values and attitudes influence the actual practice of science? How do religious beliefs and experiences shape the ways in which scientists interpret science for non-scientific audiences? These questions are addressed in this symposium, which focuses on three influential scientists who regarded themselves as religious and who wrote about science for wider audiences: Arthur Eddington, a Quaker; Arthur Holly Compton, a Presbyterian; and Albert Einstein, a Jew.”

Matthew Stanley, New York University, spoke about Eddington; Edward B. Davis, Messiah College, spoke about Compton; and Steve Gimbel, Gettysburg College, spoke about Einstein.

The Symposium was sponsored by the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DOSER), and the news article summarizing it is at:


Video of the Symposium may be viewed at: http://media.aaas-science.org/services/player/bcpid2810881978001?bckey=AQ~~,AAAADFlexpk~,loqkjB2yVJxwZoJvSC1RRPGrqyBmO21A&bctid=3372102301001

Photo by Christine A. Scheller/AAAS

Ecumenical Roundtable represented at AAAS

Ecumenical Roundtable represented at AAAS

Bruce Booher (right) at the 2014 AAAS meeting

For over 20 years now the Ecumenical Roundtable for Science, Technology and the Church has had a display table at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This year, when the AAAS held their meeting in Chicago in February, I had the privilege of helping to staff that display and talk with those who stopped by.

Things started off slowly on Friday morning, partially because of flights being canceled because of snow and ice, which delayed Jim Miller and much of the material from arriving on time. The surprising part was that the snow and ice canceling flights occurred in Charleston, South Carolina and not in Chicago! Jim, who is active in the Presbyterian Association on Science, Technology and the Christian Faith has coordinated the Ecumenical Roundtables presence at AAAS for many years.

What made my time there so rewarding were the conversations with the people who came by the display. I spoke with high school students from the United States and around the world, with teachers, professors, research scientists and graduate students. It was great to be able to talk with them about their interests and concerns, and to be able to share with them materials from many different Christian groups involved in the dialogue between faith and science.

The Ecumenical Roundtable is comprised of the Episcopal Church Committee for Science, Technology and Faith, the Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology, the Presbyterian Association on Science, Technology and the Christian Faith, the United Church of Christ (UCC) Science and Technology Network and Wesleynexus (United Methodist Church). The display at the AAAS meeting is also supported by the American Scientific Affiliation, Biologos, the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, Counterbalance, the Society of Ordained Scientists, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops and the Zygon Center for Religion and Science.

The Ecumenical Roundtable’s display was not the only science and religion presence at the AAAS meeting. I suspect many people do not realize it but the AAAS has a program on the Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER). They offer some excellent programs and materials. Visit their website at http://www.aaas.org/DoSER.

Photo by Bruce Booher

Recipe for an universe: Physics at the energy frontier

Recipe for an universe: Physics at the energy frontier

Safety training at CERN, home to the Large Hadron Collider

On November 17, 2013, Peace Lutheran Church (Alexandria, VA) hosted a multi-media presentation about high-energy physics given by Dr. Randal Ruchti, Professor of High Energy Particle Physics, University of Notre Dame, and Program Director, Physics Division, National Science Foundation. Particle physicists study the fundamental particles and interactions on which the universe is built.

Ruchti described the search for the Higgs-Boson particle, opening his talk with an image and a joke about the Higgs Boson. His presentation focused upon experiments done at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), located in Geneva, Switzerland and built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN.) On July 4, 2012, CERN researchers announced that experiments at the LHC had discovered a particle matching the description of the Higgs particle (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/nobel-physics-prize-higgs-englert/). Notre Dame researchers were involved in the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment that records the particle collisions generated by the LHC.

Ruchti brought a portable cosmic-ray detector, pioneered at Notre Dame, to his presentation. The detector is based upon scintillating fiber optic plate technology. It is housed in a light-tight box and powered by a 9-volt battery. The device Ruchti brought had been built by high school students. The device detects and optically amplifies the tracks of cosmic rays so that they can be seen by the naked eye or with a simple video camera.

Ruchti is one of the cofounders of QuarkNet, which consists of over 50 Centers in 25 states and Puerto Rico, and has an annual participation of over 450 high school teachers, 100 high school students, and 150 particle physicist mentors.

Photo by Maximilien Brice/CERN

The Gifford Lectures legacy

The Gifford Lectures legacy

Playfair Library, site of the Gifford Lectures

Adam Lord Gifford. Not exactly an everyday name, but still an important one. Lord Gifford (1820-1887) endowed one of the most prestigious lecture series in Europe, which since the late 1880’s has featured some of the best-known scholars of the day. Often the topics relate to issues of faith and science. Video streaming technology has now made it possible to view the actual presentations themselves; here are links to several recent lectures of particular interest:

David N. Livingstone (Queen’s University, Belfast) spoke in 2014 on Dealing With Darwin. The lecture series is at http://www.abdn.ac.uk/gifford/about/2014-gifford-lecture-series/ and is expanded in his book “Dealing With Darwin: Place, Politics, and Rhetoric in Religious Engagements With Evolution” by Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014.

Sarah Coakley (Cambridge University) delivered the 2012 lectures on “Sacrifice Regained: Evolution, Cooperation and God”. Access is at http://www.abdn.ac.uk/gifford/about/2012-giff/

Peter Harrison (University of Queensland) presented the 2010-2011 lectures on “Science, Religion, and Modernity”. The series is available on YouTube, beginning with:

Photo by www.hqcasanova.com via Flickr

Proclaiming the gospel in a wireless world

Proclaiming the gospel in a wireless world

Miller Chapel at Princeton Theological Seminary, site of the lectures

The Princeton Theological Seminary’s 2001 Institute on Youth Ministry was titled “Proclaiming the Gospel in a Wired World.” While these lectures are now over a decade old, and the world is now more “wireless” than “wired,” these theological reflections on modern technology and globalization still have wisdom to impart.

Amy Scott Vaughn, Director of Leadership Development at Princeton’s Institute for Youth Ministry, writes: “Whether you laud the changes technology has brought or long for yesteryear, there is no denying that today’s wired world affects how we share the good news of Jesus Christ. Those who are engaged in ministry with youth are translators—charged with the daunting task of making connections for young people who are more familiar with gigabytes than with grace.”

Here’s a link the resources from that gathering: http://www.ptsem.edu/scvm/iym/index.aspx?hdr=7204&sn=1770&id=1775

The lectures are by Dr. Thomas M. Beaudoin, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University; Dr. Marva J. Dawn, internationally renowned theologian, author and lecturer; Dr. Richard Osmer, Professor of Christian Education, Princeton Theological Seminary; and Katherine Paterson, author best known for children’s books and winner of two Newbery Medals and two National Book Awards.

Photo by Kate E. Didd via Flickr

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