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Calendar

9/3/2014 » 9/7/2014
Wonders of Science, Marshalltown, IA

9/5/2014 » 9/6/2014
“Truth for a New Generation,” Spartanburg, SC

9/19/2014
Human Sexuality Conference, Bartlesville, OK

9/19/2014
“Darwin, Dawkins and the Divine: Why is biology at the heart of the New Atheism?,” Cambridge, UK

9/21/2014
“Science & Faith: Are They Really in Conflict?,” simulcast multiple locations

Featured Members

CWIS: Christian Women in Science
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CWIS Celebrates First Year

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Lynn Billman

"I don't have to filter what I say!" Sharon Petzinger, a wildlife biologist who studies birds for the state of New Jersey, said this to me with a light of joy in her eyes. Hannah Ryan, a grad student at the University of Colorado, echoed the sentiment.

We were at the 2014 Annual Conference of the American Scientific Affiliation, entitled "From Cosmos to Psyche," and this was the first conference for both these women -- a real highlight in their careers.

(Photos courtesy of Sharen Petzinger, left, and Hannah Ryan, right)

2014-08-06-SharonPetzingergwwa.JPG 2014-08-06-IMG_3153.jpeg

The American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) is one of my passions. In this organization, a Christian who does serious science can find camaraderie without literally having to "filter what I say." If you've ever gotten "the look" from your church friends when you mention that you are a scientist, or gotten a similar "look" from your lab friends when you mention that you go to church, you know what I mean. At ASA, we can be "out" about both loving Jesus and having passion for excellent science. We work with the American Association for the Advancement of Science in their "Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion" program. And we've been around since 1941 -- yes, it's been a challenge to be both a Christian and a mainstream scientist for a long time... well, since Darwin in the 1850s... OK, since Galileo centuries before, I suppose. Today at least we have this encouraging community to join!

Read it all here.




Tags:  CWIS  Lynn Billman 

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Legos for girls who love science

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Thursday, August 21, 2014
Months after a girl took the company to task for its female toy figures, Lego has released the Research Institute, a play set created by a "real-life geophysicist, Ellen Kooijman," the company says.

The set will let kids take on the roles of paleontologist, astronomer and chemist, using three female figures. It might also satisfy some of the demands set forth earlier this year by Charlotte Benjamin, a 7-year-old who wrote a scathing letter to the company accusing its female characters of being boring.

"I love Legos," Charlotte wrote. But, she continued, there aren't enough girls — and the ones the company has made just "sit at home, go to the beach, and shop," while the boy characters "saved people, had jobs, even swam with sharks!"

The girl's letter attracted widespread attention — and within a week, Lego responded, saying "we have been very focused on including more female characters and themes that invite even more girls to build."

The new research kit, which includes a telescope, a T-Rex model and a lab set, was selected by Lego Ideas, a program that lets customers submit their own suggestions for projects. In what could be a total coincidence, the company said it was reviewing the set for possible production just two days after Charlotte's letter began going viral.

We spotted the new playset in a blog post over at io9 this weekend. You can read Kooijman's review of the product she helped design, in a blog post that ends with the line, "Cheers to science and good play!"

The new Research Institute set costs about $20 — but it's currently out of stock, a look at the Lego online store shows.

The set continues a streak of more female-centric releases from the toy company — a trend that led NPR's Neda Ullaby to ask last year, "Girls' Legos Are A Hit, But Why Do Girls Need Special Legos?"

Back in 2011, Lego began a push to tailor more of its products to girls, introducing the Lego Friends series of toys. But a backlash ensued, complete with a petition posted on Change.org that attracted tens of thousands of signatures. It asked the company "to stop distinguishing between toys for girls and those for boys," as NPR'sTell Me More reported.

It seems the complicated question of whether boys' and girls' Legos should be different — and how — persists. A look at the Lego online store's "Girls" categorytoday finds that its recent releases include a horse stable, a play house, a shopping mall — and a "Model Catwalk."
From here.

Months after a girl took the company to task for its female toy figures, Lego has released the Research Institute, a play set created by a "real-life geophysicist, Ellen Kooijman," the company says.

 

The set will let kids take on the roles of paleontologist, astronomer and chemist, using three female figures. It might also satisfy some of the demands set forth earlier this year by Charlotte Benjamin, a 7-year-old who wrote a scathing letter to the company accusing its female characters of being boring.

 

"I love Legos," Charlotte wrote. But, she continued, there aren't enough girls — and the ones the company has made just "sit at home, go to the beach, and shop," while the boy characters "saved people, had jobs, even swam with sharks!"

 

The girl's letter attracted widespread attention — and within a week, Lego responded, saying "we have been very focused on including more female characters and themes that invite even more girls to build."

 

The new research kit, which includes a telescope, a T-Rex model and a lab set, was selected by Lego Ideas, a program that lets customers submit their own suggestions for projects. In what could be a total coincidence, the company said it was reviewing the set for possible production just two days after Charlotte's letter began going viral.

 

We spotted the new playset in a blog post over at io9 this weekend. You can read Kooijman's review of the product she helped design, in a blog post that ends with the line, "Cheers to science and good play!"

 

The new Research Institute set costs about $20 — but it's currently out of stock, a look at the Lego online store shows.

 

The set continues a streak of more female-centric releases from the toy company — a trend that led NPR's Neda Ullaby to ask last year, "Girls' Legos Are A Hit, But Why Do Girls Need Special Legos?"

 

Back in 2011, Lego began a push to tailor more of its products to girls, introducing the Lego Friends series of toys. But a backlash ensued, complete with a petition posted on Change.org that attracted tens of thousands of signatures. It asked the company "to stop distinguishing between toys for girls and those for boys," as NPR's Tell Me More reported.

 

It seems the complicated question of whether boys' and girls' Legos should be different — and how — persists. A look at the Lego online store's "Girls" category today finds that its recent releases include a horse stable, a play house, a shopping mall — and a "Model Catwalk."

 

From here.

Tags:  science education 

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More than atoms

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Saturday, August 09, 2014
Ruth Bancewicz

When atoms and molecules come together, the new structures or systems they form can have unexpected properties. This principle is called emergence, and some have claimed that it shows there is more to the universe than material things. Last month at the Faraday Institute summer course, the German physicist Barbara Drossel explained why she thinks emergence is a real phenomena, and why it is so important in discussions about science and faith.

Science uses reductionism to study a system. If you break it down and do what you can to understand the parts, you should understand the behaviour of the whole a bit better. According to Drossel, the reverse is also true. As complex systems come together, new and beautiful properties emerge that are every bit as fundamental as the forces that hold together the atom.

When you put a collection of molecules together, they start to do things that they couldn’t do alone. For example air exerts pressure on the sides of a box; when a fluid is heated from below it forms convection cells; and if you mix certain chemicals together they react in a way that produces beautiful patterns.

The more different the parts that are added together, the more complex the resulting system. Biological organisms are the most complex systems that exist, because they consist of multiple systems made of very different parts, all interacting together.

A closed system like an insulated box of gas has no interaction with the outside world, but an open system – like the human brain, operates in an environment that both feeds into its behaviour and receives its output.

Studying these higher levels of organisation can bring new insights into the properties of matter. This happens, said Drossel, because it is often impossible to derive the behaviour of large collections of molecules from the microscopic physical theories. Scientific laws and theories are only approximately correct, and a system is always open to outside influences.

This principle of unpredictable properties is known as ‘weak emergence’, and is quite controversial in physics. The debate is hot and interesting, but it’s really only a debate about the description of matter. What happens if you throw in a bit of philosophy?

Strong emergence is the idea that the higher properties that emerge from complex systems are not just difficult to predict, but they are actually completely new properties. The lower levels of organisation are important, but the final outcome is not determined simply by the behaviour of atoms and molecules alone.

If strong emergence actually happens, that means complex systems are not simply determined by the interaction of their components. Higher-order principles such as symmetries might determine the important properties of these systems, and there might be ‘top-down’ influences at work, not just the ‘bottom-up’ forces exerted by the parts of the system. According to the physicist and Anglican priest John Polkinghorne, the unpredictabilities present in the microscopic world permit this openness to other causes.

So why might a scientist believe in strong emergence? Drossel gave several arguments in its favour. First, the parts have never existed without the whole. Since its inception, the universe has always had forces and symmetries, size and temperature, all of which affect the particles in it, so it’s almost impossible to speak of the properties of particles alone. Second, some of the details about the lower-level behaviour of atoms are not actually important in determining the behaviour of the whole system. There are issues with the predictability of forces and the movements of particles, but emergent properties are insensitive to these details.

The final piece of evidence for strong emergence is the fact that non-material things can have an influence over complex systems. Taking humans as an example, principles such as the rules of logic or moral values often affect our behaviour. If these principles are real (i.e. if they exist whether humans exist or not), then they cannot be determined by atoms and molecules. So the complex system that is a human being is not completely determined by the atoms and molecules of their body, or the physical properties of his or her environment.

Barbara was quick to point out that physics deals only with what happens within the physical matter of the universe. If God exists, he is an ultimate reality and exists outside of the world as well as within it. He could have created any kind of world he liked, so it’s impossible to argue for the existence of God from science. What we can say, however, is that there is good evidence from physics that we have freedom to act in the world.

Read Ruth Bancewicz's previous post on emergence in human consciousness hereThere is also a short paper explaining emergence on the Test of Faith website.

Tags:  physics  Ruth Bancewicz 

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Alice C. Linsley Responds to Alan Dicken on Noah's Flood

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Monday, August 04, 2014
Alice C. Linsley

I did not attend the ASA/CSCA/CiS conference this summer. It was held at McMaster University where Dr. Dicken is a professor. I attended the 2013 conference in Nashville where I met Alan Dicken and we discussed the the cultural context of Abraham's ancestors. He asserts that they were Sumerians and I that they were Nilo-Saharans. Indeed, ancient images of the common folk of Sumeria reveal physical features and sun and cattle symbolism characteristic of the Nilo-Saharans. In fact, the term "fertile crescent" was coined by James Henry Breasted (1865–1935), a scholar of ancient Egypt and director of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, in his 1916 textbook, Ancient Times: A History of the Early World. Breasted applies this term to a much larger area than the Tigris-Euphrates Valley. He had in mind the centers of civilization from the Nile to the Indus.

Read my response to Dr. Dicken's presentation here


Tags:  Biblical Anthropology  climate change 

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PhD Student Francesca Day on Symmetry

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Tuesday, July 29, 2014
This article first appeared in Science and BeliefRuth Bancewicz's blog.


Symmetry or Fine Tuning?
Francesca Day

Why is there so much symmetry in nature? I shared some examples 
in an earlier post, and questioned whether there was a link between these and the ‘fine-tuning’ of the universe.
 I asked Francesca Day, a
PhD student at the University of Oxford, if she could investigate. Francesca’s own work is on 
the astrophysical signatures of dark radiation, and here she explains why she thinks symmetry might lead
to a more wonderful explanation of the universe than the mystery of fine-tuning.

Many argue that if the laws of physics had been just slightly different, life – or
at least life as we know it – would not have been possible in the universe. The fundamental laws and parameters of physics seem to have conspired so as to make the formation of life possible. To many it seems as if science is pointing to a designer of the universe who set all these parameters just right for us – as
if science is pointing the way to God.

Some scientists invoke a version of the “anthropic principle” to explain fine-tuning. The idea is that there are many universes (or many different patches of our universe) with different values of the fundamental parameters. It is not surprising that we live in the universe or patch with parameters that allow life. However, this argument is pretty speculative and, some would say, something of a cop out.

So where might fine-tuning come from? Why do the laws of physics seem just right for life? Has God carefully crafted and adjusted them to allow our evolution? Is God like a piano tuner, meticulously tightening the strings of the universe until everything is just so? Or did God make a piano that could never be out of tune? Does the apparent fine-tuning in the laws of physics emerge from deeper, more fundamental laws? I, along with many other physicists, think it might do, and that those deeper laws might be symmetries.

Over the past 100 years, symmetry has emerged as the principle that underpins the physical universe. For example, Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity is based on a symmetry between “inertial frames” – observers moving at a constant velocity with respect to each other. Einstein realised that the speed of light should look the same in all inertial frames – even if the observer is moving very quickly away from or towards the light source. This simple but counter-intuitive symmetry revolutionised our understanding of space and time. It forced us to realise that time is not the rigid path we once thought, but behaves as a fourth dimension whose progress depends on the motion of the observer.

Ruth Bancewicz explained how symmetries can lead to fundamental laws of nature via Noether’s theorem. In this way, the structure of the laws of physics is ruled by symmetry. The particles that make up all matter in our universe are also governed by “internal symmetries” – symmetries that do not depend on space or time but which govern the behaviour and interactions of the particles themselves. These symmetries determine much of the structure we see in the particle world.

Physicists today are trying to uncover deeper symmetries in the physical world – deeper symmetries in the behaviour of subatomic particles and deeper symmetries in space and time themselves. Perhaps these deeper symmetries lead to the laws of physics as we know them today, in a similar way to how rotational symmetry leads to the law of conservation of angular momentum via Noether’s theorem. Perhaps instead of fine-tuning each law of physics individually, God created the universe with a set of symmetries that naturally led to laws that are just right for life.

As a Christian and a physicist, I believe that God created a world that we have the power to explore and understand. This includes seeking deeper and deeper theories for why the fundamental laws and parameters are the way they are. Rather than the traditional view of fine-tuning pointing directly to God, I see it as part of an invitation from him. Why is the universe just right for life? With this question, God invites us to explore his creation and to discover the underlying principles He wove into it.

For me, symmetry is an intriguing and beautiful potential solution to the fine-tuning problem. These glorious symmetries on which creation is based could take us beyond our picture of fine-tuning and point the way to a deeper understanding of the universe.

Francesca Day won the Christians in Science student essay prize in 2013, and has also written for the Huffington Post.

Tags:  science education; physics 

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"Flourish Atlanta" September 13

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Monday, July 28, 2014

Join us at Flourish: Atlanta


Facebook Page:  http://bit.ly/fbflourish


The Atlanta Advisory Council for InterVarsity's Women in the Academy and Professions will host a gathering on September 13 at Emory University called "Flourish: Atlanta."

This will be a gathering of women graduate/professional students, faculty and professionals around calling, courage and confidence – three topics most often brought up in conversations, blogs, print materials etc. when women think/write about and discuss issues we face as we follow our passions.

This event will serve as an opportunity to support and encourage local women as they seek to be faithful to the call of God on their lives and as a pilot project we can learn from as we consider doing something similar in other parts of the country. Please consider joining us. Mark your calendar!

Date: Saturday, September 13, 2014

Place: Emory University

Time: 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Rosalind Picard, MIT

Cost: $75 for graduate/professional students and $150 for faculty and working professionals. Scholarships are available. 

Continental breakfast, coffee breaks, and lunch will be provided.

Information/Registration: thewell.intervarsity.org/flourish


A couple of professional conferences will be held in Atlanta that weekend. Dr. Picard is presenting a paper at one of them. There will be a number of ASA folks at these and it would be wonderful if they could attend all or part of Flourish since they will already be in town. 

For more information, contact:

Karen Hice Guzmán

Director – Women in the Academy & Professions

Graduate and Faculty Ministries

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

678.231.4503

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Prayer for the 2014 ASA Conference in Hamilton

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Wednesday, June 25, 2014

 

It is not too late to register for the ASA-CCAA conference in Hamilton, Ontario scheduled for July 25-28. This promises to be a very good conference and a place to connect and reconnect.

Some of us will not be able to attend, but we can join in spirit by remembering to pray for all the participants and for the speakers. Here is a prayer that we might pray together daily from July 24 through July 29:

 

Almighty and eternal God, whose will it is that all should come to you through your Son Jesus Christ: Inspire our witness as people of science, that we might make known the power of his forgiveness and the hope of his resurrection.

We beseech you to be with us as we gather and as we depart. Keep us safe from all harm.

While we are together grant us grace to serve one another, to listen to one another, and to encourage one another. May we drink from the fountain of wisdom, which is your Word and Christ our Lord.  

You have filled the world with beauty, O Lord. Open our eyes to behold your gracious hand in all your works; that we may learn to serve you and all humanity with gladness; for the sake of him through whom all things were created and are sustained, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Tags:  ASA 

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Mayim Bialik On and Off the Screen

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Monday, May 26, 2014

 

Mayim Bailik
Photo:  Cydney Scott

Mayim Bialik earned her undergraduate degree and a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA and plays a neuroscientist on The Big Bang Theory. She minored in Jewish Studies and Hebrew. She spoke at Boston University’s Graduate Women in Science and Engineering luncheon May 17. 



There were many fans of the popular nerd-centric TV sitcom The Big Bang Theoryat the BU Graduate Women in Science and Engineering (GWISE) luncheon Saturday with guest Mayim Bialik, who plays a neurobiologist on the show. But the 50 or so students and professors at the event, hosted by Beverly Brown, GWISE advisory board member and wife of President Robert A. Brown, also appreciated Bialik’s lesser known bonafides—she holds a doctorate in neuroscience and is a champion of science, technology, engineering, and mathematic (STEM) education for girls.

Having launched her television acting career at 14 as the quirky, hat-loving Blossom Russo in the early 1990s NBC television sitcom Blossom, Bialik (Hon.’14), who received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters at Sunday’s Commencement, has won over a new generation with her portrayal of The Big Bang Theory’s Amy Farrah Fowler. The loopy, brilliant Fowler joined the cast at the end of season three and is now a regular. Bialik’s performance has earned her two Screen Actors Guild nominations and two Emmy nominations.

Born in San Diego, 38-year-old Bialik played the young Bette Midler in Beaches at age 12 and has made guest appearances on such TV shows as HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. A character actress who pokes fun at her bookish non-Hollywood appearance ("These glasses are real,” she told the GWISE audience of her outsized black horn-rims), she earned a bachelor’s from the University of California, Los Angeles, in neuroscience in 2000, and in 2007 completed a PhD in neuroscience, also from UCLA. Her research examined the role of oxytocin and vasopressin in obsessive-compulsive disorder in adolescents with Prader-Willi syndrome, a genetic abnormality causing life-threatening obesity. "I’m a chromosome 8 person,” she said, to a chorus of knowing laughter.


Read it all here.
 


Tags:  Mayim Bialik  STEM 

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Homage to Mary Anning

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Wednesday, May 21, 2014

 

Today's Google Doodle pays homage to one of the great women in Science, Mary Anning.

Mary Anning homage on Google today.  Image credit: Google Inc.

Google Inc paid homage to the 215 anniversary of the birth of Mary Anning on May 21 2014 with this Doodle on the homepage. Image credit: Google Inc.

 

Mary Anning (1799-1846) by the age of 12 had already discovered in rocks of the English countryside fossils that she would later describe as a plesiosaur. She spent more than 30 years collecting and describing fossils mostly in rock of Jurassic age. Anning along with William Buckland, who was well aware and an admirer of Mary’s work and described the first true dinosaur, and Cuvier who described and wrote about dinosaurs were instrumental in developing a picture of life in the Jurassic. It eventually lead to Cuvier’s specific proposal that there had been an "age of reptiles.” This was a time when reptiles would have been the dominant animal in all places on earth versus the mammals that we have today. Like the discovery of deep time itself over the previous century this idea of earth’s changing biota over time presented a serious challenge to established views of creation. (Read more here.)


Mary Anning was a British fossil collector and paleontologist who became known for important finds she made in the Jurassic marine fossil beds at Lyme Regis in Dorset, where she lived. Her work contributed to fundamental changes in scientific thinking about prehistoric life and the history of the Earth. Mary's work drew considerable attention in England as most people believed in a young Earth and regarded this to be a Biblical view.

Fossil collecting was a popular hobby in the late 18th and early 19th century, but gradually developed into a science as the importance of fossils to geology and biology became better understood. Anning searched for fossils in the area's Blue Lias cliffs, particularly during the winter months when landslides exposed new fossils that had to be collected quickly before they were lost to the sea. It was dangerous work, and she nearly lost her life in 1833 during a landslide.

In 2010, the Royal Society included Anning in a list of the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science.

Mary Anning, though raised Congregationalist, regularly worshiped with her family in the Anglican Church.


Tags:  fossils  Mary Anning 

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Talking Science and Bible with Prisoners

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Saturday, May 17, 2014
Multiple security doors separate prisoners from the outside world.


"I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."--Jesus Christ (Matthew 25:37)


Alice C. Linsley

 

There are 14 women in the Saturday afternoon Bible study at the local prison. This is not a Bible study in the traditional sense. Only a few even bring a Bible. Instead we discuss what the Bible has to say about life issues. The women want to talk about anger, forgiveness, addiction, abuse, and guilt. They also want to hear about salvation, healing, God’s provision for them and the gift of eternal life.

 

As a Biblical anthropologist, I tend to be scholarly in my approach to the Biblical text. Maybe that is why God opened this prison ministry to me. This brings me balance and reminds me of what really matters. The women in prison want something to carry them through the week; something to remind them that God cares about them and can be trusted.

 

We keep it basic. We keep it real.  They share their experiences of God’s presence in tragic circumstances and in emergency rooms where they were taken when they overdosed on drugs. They understand that the Bible is not the only way that God communicates. Many have never read the Bible and some have had bad experiences in churches. We are learning to hear God’s voice in non-Biblical terms, but always in terms consistent with Biblical revelation and doctrine.

 

None of the women has ever asked about Darwin or the age of the Earth. None has asked about the extent of Noah’s flood and the geological record. These issues don’t seem to matter. Their need for God is basic to being human. They want to know why God delays in answering their prayers. They want to hear about something good and hopeful in the midst of their suffering. Why didn’t God stop my father from abusing me? Why couldn’t I say goodbye to my mother before she died? Where was God when my boyfriend attacked me? Can I trust God to take care of me when I get out of prison?

 

Sometimes I share a tidbit from science. Once it was about how Nineveh was discovered and found to be as great a city as described in the book of Jonah. Another time I shared how analysis of the Biblical kinship records show that Jesus was a descendant of Ruth, a near-homeless woman who loved her aging mother-in-law so much she stayed by her side. The African American women are interested in knowing about Abraham’s Kushite ancestors. A few have asked whether or not God made some people homosexual.

 

Each time I go to the prison I learn about the Bible from these women and I realize that the big debates that take place in scientific circles really are not big in the grander scope of things. For a person serving time, billions of years or 10,000 years are far less important that the number of days they have left to serve their prison term. Whether God created in six 24-hour days or through a long gradual process of evolution means little to someone yearning for God to create in them a new and contrite heart.

 

Please pray for this prison ministry which meets on the third Saturday of each month.


Related reading: Haunting Pictures of Women Prisoners


Tags:  Alice C. Linsley  Bible  science 

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