Randy, Leslie, and I have just returned from a productive and stimulating trip to southern California. The purpose of our trip was twofold: (1) annual meeting planning and promotion and (2) networking and connecting with as many ASA members as possible. In addition to visiting three college campuses (Azusa Pacific University (APU), Westmont College, and California Baptist University), we had individual meetings with several ASA folks and hosted three local chapter gatherings. It was a wonderful opportunity to interact and fellowship with close to 100 like-minded Christians involved in the sciences who share a desire to engage in the faith and science dialogue.
I came back to Boston very encouraged and excited about the important mission of the ASA, that of being a network of Christians in the sciences. God is clearly at work in our midst and we are delighted to be celebrating 75 years of His faithfulness in 2016. Excitement is building for the 75th anniversary annual meeting at APU this July. We've already heard from many who are planning to attend so you will not want to miss this very special celebration event. Please join us if you are able!
As Randy's tenure and our fiscal year are quickly coming to a close, we are pressing hard to the finish line in order to meet our annual fund goals. Thanks to the many of you who have generously given of your time, talent, and treasure this year and over many years. If you have not yet made a gift or are in a position to help again, would you prayerfully consider doing so by March 31? We would be most grateful and appreciative.
Finally, please join us for the livestream event on Friday, April 8 at Gordon College - Randy's farewell and Leslie's welcome reception.
It's Friday but Sunday's coming….May you enjoy a glorious Easter!
Vicki L. Best Director of Business Development American Scientific Affiliation 218 Boston Street Suite 208
Dr. Loretta Jackson-Hayes is an associate professor of chemistry at Rhodes College in Memphis.
In business and at every level of government, we hear how important it is to graduate more students majoring in science, technology, engineering and math, as our nation’s competitiveness depends on it. The Obama administration has set a goal of increasing STEM graduates by one million by 2022, and the “desperate need” for more STEM students makes regular headlines. The emphasis on bolstering STEM participation comes in tandem with bleak news about the liberal arts — bad job prospects, programs being cut, too many humanities majors.
As a chemist, I agree that remaining competitive in the sciences is a critical issue. But as an instructor, I also think that if American STEM grads are going lead the world in innovation, then their science education cannot be divorced from the liberal arts.
Urbana speaker Kelly Seaton spoke to a Christian grad student in planetary sciences at Urbana. The student wants to network with Christians in planetary science at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference conference. There will be an opportunity to do so at an open dinner at a Japanese restaurant in Woodlands, Texas.
Please join us for the first LPSC (Lunar & Planetary Science Conference) Christian Networking Dinner.
Sunday March 20, 5pm at Uni Sushi near the Woodlands Marriott, The Woodlands, Texas
I have blogged a number of times on imagination, but what do working scientists think about this subject? Dr Jennifer Siggers is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London, where she works on medical applications of fluid dynamics. Having met her at a Christians in Scienceconference a couple of years before, I wanted to find out how imagination is relevant to her own life in the lab.
Imagination is highly valued in Western culture but not always recognised as an essential part of science. So Jennifer initially protested that she wasn’t sure she had anything to say about imagination, but eventually was able to speak with me at some length about how important it is in her work. Mental pictures, analogies and thought experiments are all important for a scientist. For a Christian, learning to use imagination can also enhance their faith, helping them to make sense of their experience both in and out of the lab.
She said that “science is very creative and you need to have good ideas … The more you can think out of the box, the better”. She gave an example of some modelling she and some of her PhD students had been doing on heart beat regulation.
Any individual has variations in their pulse rate over the course of a day. These differences might be caused by activity levels, emotions, or simply the action of breathing. There is also a daily cycle of changes in heart rate, with heart attacks being more common just before a person wakes up. A couple of students had been comparing heart rate data from healthy individuals and people who have heart disease, to see if there were any differences in their daily cycles. They thought up some hypothetical scenarios, and then tested those ideas on computer models to see if they could replicate the differences in heart rate and begin to understand where they might come from.
Most of the previous research had assumed the heart cycles are regular, but the students needed to come up with something better if they were to make any more progress. They realised that they could use an analysis method called ‘empirical mode decomposition’, that lets the signal choose its own frequency. Their guess proved to be a good one, and they found a 24-hour repeated cycle that looks like a signal from the CLOCK gene.
Sometimes what’s needed are ideas that are “a bit wacky”, and staring at a blank piece of paper is not always conducive to that sort of thinking. When I asked Jennifer what stimulated her imagination she said, “When I was doing my PhD I used to get these sorts of ideas in places like the shower. Now I tend to get them when I’m going to bed or I’m quite relaxed … having thought about the problem deeply and then stopping thinking about it, going home and doing something different, or even on the way home: that can be the time when inspiration strikes.”
For scientists like Jennifer, this process of hypothesising and testing – both in and out of the lab – leads them to God. She explained, “science makes much more sense if there is, at some deep level, a truth that we’re pursuing”.
Jennifer believes that mathematics has its origin in God. Through her work she is “discovering what he’s already put there, and it’s absolutely beautiful.” When she uses her imagination to tackle a problem in bioengineering, she expects to discover something. “The fact that I believe in a God makes me confident that there’s an answer to any scientific question we’re asking. Whether we’ll find it, I don’t know, but there is an answer.”
Einstein wondered why is it that we can make sense of the universe. This is a question that today’s guest author, Jennifer Siggers, has also asked. Jennifer is a mathematician based at Imperial College London who applies her skills to biological problems. She is also a Christian, and her faith leads her to ask what mathematics can reveal about God. Whether you appreciate the power of numbers or not, it is fascinating to see where this line of thinking can lead. To find out more about Jennifer’s faith and work, see God in the Lab: How Science Enhances Faith.
Numbers have fascinated me since I can remember.
We all discover beauty in different things in life, according to our personalities. Many find beauty in music, art and scenery – and some find it in abstract mathematical phenomena and how they link to real life. I think the emotional response to these different types of beauty is similar. From an early age, I began to discover beauty in mathematics.
At primary school I was fascinated by exact powers of 2: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 and so on. These numbers have several interesting properties. For example, you can prove that 2^(2n) – 1 is divisible by 3, whereas 2^(2n – 1) – 1 is not.
In sixth form, I developed an interest in complex numbers, which has remained with me. De Moivre’s theorem states that e^(iθ) = cos θ+ i sin θ relates the trigonometric cosine and sine functions to the exponential, which I found difficult to get my head around but curiously appealing.
Later at university, I learned that if you throw a spinning cuboid box and it is rotating around its longest or its shortest axis, it will rotate stably. If it is rotating around the intermediate axis the rotation is unstable. What I liked was that this fact could be both proved mathematically, and also demonstrated simply and convincingly in front of our very eyes using the nearest convenient cuboid (which happened to be a textbook)!
Nowadays, I love the way that even simplified mathematical models done on the back of an envelope can give us insights into the mechanisms underpinning heart disease, sight loss and the like.
My love of mathematics has led me to wonder why these things work out in such a beautiful way. Why are relationships between numbers full of patterns like this? Why can we have a hope of finding them?
The Bible tells us that before God created, ‘the earth was formless and empty’ (Genesis 1:2). So Christians understand that everything (including the laws of nature and mathematics) was created by God in its entirety. Later in Chapter 1 of Genesis we read that everything in God’s original creation was good.
Since we are all created with different personalities, we have our own unique tastes. We are also created in the image of God, and God’s creation is good, so it’s not surprising that we find aspects of his creation beautiful. Indeed we are told in Ecclesiastes 3:11 that ‘[God] has made everything beautiful in its time.’
But what does this tell us about God, and what should we be doing about it? Let me highlight three things.
First of all, seeing this sort of beauty reminds Christians that God is creator. When we see something beautiful, we know that it is only like that because that is how God created it. It is a wonderful method by which God helps us to remember him in our daily lives – not by criticising us as we so often forget him, but by gently showing us something of himself in a way that gives us great enjoyment, as well as pointing to him.
Secondly, it gives us insight into God’s character. Just as listening to a great piece of music reminds us that God is the ultimate composer and musician, so understanding a piece of abstract mathematics shows us that God values order. He makes things work by setting up natural laws that only he can break (since he created them!), and we can learn more about him and get to know him better as we study these amazing phenomena.
Thirdly, the fact that God’s creation displays many examples of beauty points others to the existence of God. As Psalm 19:1 says, ‘the heavens declare the glory of God’, and in fact all of God’s creation declares God’s glory. ‘Declare’ is a strong word to use, implying as it does that God’s existence and purpose is being shouted from the rooftops for all to see. Romans 1:20 states this even more strongly: ‘For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.’
For Christians, therefore, the beauty of the universe can be used to show something about God’s character. If a friend tells me that he or she loves something about the universe, I might say something like, ‘Yes, that is awesome, and for me it is a reminder of the way God works in the world, that he created an orderly universe and loves beautiful things’.
We have an awesome, fantastic God who is more wonderful than we can imagine and who creates amazing things that we enjoy. Let’s make the most of them and give him glory!
The American Scientific Affiliation voted in July to add three new women to the ASA Fellow ranks in 2015. They are Gladys Kober, Kathryn Applegate, and Robin Pals-Rylaarsdam. This raised the number of women Fellows to 22 (out of 172 total Fellows, putting females at 13%).
Gladys Kober is an astronomy data analyst with NASA and recently led an effort to develop a new high school textbook on astronomy for a Christian audience. Gladys is an adjunct professor of astronomy at Towson University. She was raised in a Christian home in Brazil and has a M. A. in Astrophysics from Brazil. She worked for 2 years in Rio's planetarium.
Kathryn Applegate is a biologist. She earned bachelor’s degrees in biophysics and mathematics at Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana, where she co-wrote an undergraduate biophysics textbook still used in Centenary’s biophysics program. Kathryn received her Ph.D. in computational cell biology from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) in La Jolla, California, in 2010. There she developed computer vision algorithms to measure the remodeling activity of the cell’s internal scaffold, the cytoskeleton. In addition, she developed mathematical models of cytoskeleton dynamics to investigate how its activity at the molecular level contributes to higher-order processes such as cell migration. Kathryn leads the Evolution and Christian Faith grants program for BioLogos.
Robin Pals-Rylaarsdam is a biology professor and Department Chair at Benedictine University, and formerly a book review editor for the ASA Journal PSCF. Robin was a Research Associate at Northwestern University/Children's Memorial Hospital (1999-2000).
Other CWIS news: As of November 21, 2015, Christian Women in Science, an affiliate of the ASA, has 275 members. Of those, 166 are Student Basic or Student members, and 90 are Regular members. Current members are encouraged to reach out to other Christian women in science who may not be familiar with the organizations and encourage them to join.
One of the main issues for conservation is communication. How can scientists share their knowledge with the people whose behaviour is affecting the land? This is one of the questions that drew zoologist Stephanie Bryant into science communication, and the ‘God and the Big Bang’ school events project. In this interview, Steph explains how she was drawn into science, how her faith informed her studies, and the impact the God and the Big Bang events are having on young people’s thinking.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself? What got you into zoology?
I spent a lot of my childhood messing around with animals. My family is very outdoorsy so I’ve always been encouraged to be outside and getting covered in mud and not being worried about that sort of thing. My Dad trained as a scientist originally, and we had boxes of David Attenborough videos and things like that around. I really enjoyed, as a four year old, watching killer whales eating sea lions on video for some reason. It has carried on from there, really!
So that took you to Cambridge to study Zoology and you didn’t stop liking it?
Yes, no one was very surprised when I decided that I wanted to study natural sciences. They were even less surprised when I specialised in zoology, and ecology within that. There have been points where it has felt quite tough. Cambridge is a lot of work, and I think unless you’re doing the subject that you really love you’d find it impossible sometimes. So that has refined my passion for zoology.
Where did your interest in conservation come from?
Again, because I’ve spent a lot of time outside with my family hiking and just seeing an incredibly beautiful world I think I’ve had an appreciation for nature ingrained in me for a very long time. I lived in Oklahoma for a bit, and I remember a rainforest project I did at school there when I was about five. I had a book about all the animals in a rainforest and how they are affected when one tree gets chopped down. It was just really sad, but it also started growing my passion for looking after this planet and realising that humans aren’t the only species that needs it or uses it.
You are also a person of faith, so how did that affect your approach to science and conservation?
I became a Christian in my first year of university, so my conservation science passion has been around for quite a bit longer. I actually think it’s really interesting that becoming a Christian and seeing that this is God’s world and that he made it and that he loves it has really fuelled and continued to motivate my care for the environment. It’s reinforced views that I already had, and made me understand why I had a sense of wrongness about the way we’re exploiting and treating the planet with such a lack of love.
To turn it around the other way, does your science feed into your faith in any way?
I think the more science that I have done – the more that I’ve explored the world and learnt more about it from a scientific perspective, whether that’s specifically conservation science or the other areas of science I’ve studied along the way – I just find that it is all awe-inspiring. It is mind-blowing.
The deeper that you go into science the more incredible it becomes, and that really makes me want to worship God. If I’m in a good science lecture, it almost feels like I should stand up and sing a hymn at the end of it. It feels like a really good sermon. The most obvious quote coming to mind being that “the heavens declare the glory of God”, so when you’re studying science you’re seeing God’s glory.
It seems you’ve always been very secure in the relationship between the two?
Yes, I don’t think that my science was ever a stumbling block in coming to faith. It really all seemed to click into place very easily and they definitely enrich one another.
Can you tell us about God and the Big Bang and how you got involved?
I spent about nine months working in Canada for a Christian conservation organisation called A Rocha. I really loved putting into practice what I learnt from my degree and using that knowledge and that passion to do something other than pass exams. It also became clear to me that as scientists we’re not necessarily all that great at communicating our science to ordinary people or talking to, say, land owners about why we think they should manage their land in a different way or just change the way that they view the planet. So I was looking for something more directly in scientific communication to work on that, and then this job came along. It was being advertised in the Christians in Science newsletter, which I happen to read. It combined my love of science and my love for God and also I really enjoyed teaching and communicating with young people, so the project takes all of those things and does some really useful stuff with schools around the UK now.
So what does God in the Big Bang look like?
We are a project that aims to get young people thinking and talking for themselves about science and faith and how the two interact; whether they are compatible and the different ways you might form your opinions about the world and about your purpose and meaning in the world. What that looks like is that we go into schools all over the UK. We put together a team of scientists who are Christians to lead sessions, whether that is giving a talk or leading something a bit more hands-on and interactive, sharing and exploring ideas about science and faith.
What kind of effect does this seem to be having on pupils and teachers?
We hand out a survey at the start of the day and then a very similar survey at the end of the day to try and pin down some of the effects; whether what we are doing is useful in any way, whether it is changing their thinking and helping their understanding. We get a lot of really overwhelmingly positive comments, whether it’s from someone who is already a Christian saying “now I’ve realised I can go and do science at university, it’s made me realise that I can combine my passion for God and my passion for science” or whether it’s someone that’s just never thought about this kind of thing before or thought that if you were a scientist then you were definitely an atheist, saying how excited they were, how much more open-minded they are now about thinking and combining the two.
How do people find out more?
We have a website, www.gatbb.co.uk, that has our contact details on and more information about the project. If you want to ring up or send an email saying you’re interested, or asking whatever question you might have, then we’ll be more than happy to get in touch and talk that through.
77,000 year python carved into the side of a mountain in Botswana
The Age of the Earth and the Evidence of Human Occupation
Alice C. Linsley
Students often ask questions that pertain to things they have heard about the Bible or read in the Bible. Over the years I have collected commonly asked questions and provided answers from the perspective of Biblical Anthropology.
In this article, I focus on three questions: the age of the Earth, the time that humans have been on Earth, and how we are to understand the biblical figure of Adam.
One of the conclusions the head of the Scarlet Macaw project on Isla Coiba reached by the end of his time there was that no one knows anything about the Scarlet Macaws on the island. They only know that they are indeed present, because they can sometimes be seen at certain locations. This is both a bad thing and a good thing. It is a bad thing because it makes research very difficult; there is nothing to start with or to go on in making decisions about how to allocate time, effort, and money (all of which are very limited). It is a good thing because anything learned is publishable. It is all new.
In studying the logistics of the island, it isn’t hard to understand why no one has studied the macaws present until now. Coiba is not perforated with roads. Even if it were, there are no vehicles on the island. Access therefore occurs by boating to various beaches and rivers and proceeding inland from there, whether up waterways or by hiking on the few existing trails. There are no docks on the island either. This means that Feliciano the boat captain steers his panga as close as he can reasonably get to the destination on shore, and everyone hops out of the boat into the surf, carrying any gear, lunches, snake boots, etc. that they may need. My time on Coiba gave me firsthand knowledge of what the term “inaccessible” really means.
Isla Coiba contains minimal accommodations for its human visitors, but we remain very grateful for those that do exist. Now a Panamanian national park, park headquarters on the northern end of the island include a few simple dormitory-style rooms with tile floors and, thankfully, attached bathrooms. To my happy surprise, they also have air conditioners which come on every evening when the electricity for the whole place is turned on. This made for far better accommodations overall than we were expecting. This cheery discovery was dampened somewhat by the fact that dozens of black vultures (Coragypsatratus) of all ages are permanent residents of the far end of the residential complex. They lurk about in the trees near the kitchen area, quarreling over leftover scraps and roosting en masse at night, with young birds acting helpless and begging their parents for food (vulture regurgitant, yum yum) in the universal manner of juvenile birds. But we bird lovers mustn’t be biased, or at least not too much. Vultures fill a valid niche also. The student of vulture lore would be elated.
Each morning we departed from our lodging at park headquarters courtesy of Feliciano and his panga. Our first sighting of Ara macao occurred at what turned out to be the best and most reliable place to see them throughout our time on the island. This was the Rio San Juan, a wide and winding river with its mouth on the southeast side of the island. Tides on the Pacific side of Panama are significant and were always taken into account on our boat excursions. Rio San Juan was only safely accessible as the tide was entering the river, raising water levels throughout, so the timing of our excursions upriver varied considerably. But almost every time we visited there we discovered some screeching macaws. Finding them amid the dense vegetation was difficult, especially toward the evening when they would find a roosting branch and settle down there. But they remained noisy enough most of the time so that we would eventually be rewarded with a glimpse of color and an alert eye, well aware of our presence.
We saw both mated pairs and at least one adult with a juvenile. Juveniles are identified by their short tails. Although they grow quickly and their bodies are soon the same size as the adults, they just haven’t lived long enough for their distinct central rectrices to reach the length of an adult’s. In the same way, breeding females can be identified by their ragged and broken tail feathers. Sitting in that nest cavity wears down their tails.
As a result of our efforts on Coiba, there is now some fundamental data on the resident macaws. But far more remains to be discovered. Where are their nest sites? How successful is their reproduction here? Why don’t they appear to feed in the same trees they gorge on in Belize? It seems to me that it would be a lot easier to study vultures. Well, yes; I’ll grant them that victory. The vultures win the Accessible-and-Ugly-But-Still-Interesting award. For the Raucous Splendor award, Ara macao wins hands down.
To date, all the publications of the ASA about Noah have portrayed him as a Mesopotamian. There is much evidence to suggest that Noah was a Proto-Saharan who lived in the region of Lake Chad during the African Humid Period. This conversation presents both views, and the readers of our CWIS blog may find it interesting.
Dufuna Canoe was discovered in 1987 by a Fulani cattle herdsman a few kilometers from the village of Dufuna, not far from the Komadugu Gana River in Yobe State, Nigeria.Radiocarbon dating of a sample of charcoal found near the site dates the canoe at 8500 to 8000 years [African Humid Period] linking the site to Lake Mega Chad. It is the oldest boat to be discovered in Africa, and the second oldest known worldwide. By comparison, Egypt's oldest boat is only about 5000 years old.
It is a black mahogany dugout found in the region of Lake Chad, in the Land of Noah. The Dufuna dugoutwas buried at a depth of 16 feet under clays and sands whose alternating sequence showed evidence of deposition in standing and flowing water. The dugout dates to 8000 years before the present.