Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Confused to Confident

By Kristine Johnson

Kristine is a member of the American Scientific Affiliation and an aerospace engineer for Honeywell. She is featured at the BioLogos Forum "Believing Scientists Respond." What follows is a brief testimony.

I grew up in a wonderful Christian home and even attended a Christian school for several years. Unfortunately, a lot of the “science” at my Christian school was pretty inaccurate. When I was in high school I started having a lot of questions. My Christian school science teacher told me to stop asking. He advised me to skip college and just get married and have kids and be a stay at home mom/wife. I also attempted to ask my youth pastor my questions. He told me just to have faith and then he tried to avoid me.

On my way home from a short-term mission trip to Guatemala, I was praying and asking God for direction for my life. I had been studying aerospace engineering and mechanics and felt the Holy Spirit confirm that I was designed with math and science skills for the purpose of being an engineer and bringing my faith into the workplace to be a witness for Jesus to other engineers and people in the scientific realm. I completed my education and am currently working at Honeywell Aerospace analyzing signals from space and designing precision landing systems.

My degree and my work brought me into conflict with what I had been taught at the Christian school. I am incredibly thankful to have found resources like the ASA, Reasons to Believe, BioLogos, and my family to help me navigate through relearning what Scripture says and understanding varying interpretations, especially around creation. I’m so grateful for quality resources that bring nature and faith into harmony. I’ve become more passionate in learning theology, studying Scripture, and reading more diversely. Because of these organizations (and others), I have been equipped to help my own daughters with their tough questions. I’ve also been able to meet somewhat regularly with the youth pastor at my church to help him have tools to direct students who have science related questions. Over the last few years I have had the opportunity to share in the youth group a handful of times on science related topics. This spring, one of my daughters was talking with a college student from our church and she shared with my daughter that the information I had presented in the youth group helped her faith while she was in college (also studying engineering). I feel blessed to have helped her and look forward to future opportunities to share how God has been working in and through my experiences.

This week our family had dinner with one of the pastors from our church and his family. We had a lovely evening and out of our conversation, the pastor’s wife asked if I would ever be willing to teach in one of the adult Sunday School classes at our church. I’m already looking forward to this potential new opportunity. May Jesus Christ be praised in all I say and do!

Monday, July 16, 2018

Chernobyl Wolf Population

A wild fox being fed by a tourist in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

Wild animals have free range around northern Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear plant, the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident, which spread radiation throughout the region in 1986.

Studies have hinted that significant populations of European gray wolves and other large creatures live in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, the roughly Rhode Island-sized, 1,000-square-mile section from which people were evacuated and can no longer live.

While clear of humans, animals are not free from radiation and its health effects, an active and at times controversial area of research. Many questions remain about the extent to which radiation causes mutations in various species, and whether these could be spread outside the zone.

Read it all here.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Women Professors Underrepresented in Professional Journals

These days there is an overwhelming consensus in our scientific community that scientific talent is not gendered. Universities, funding agencies, conference organizers and individual laboratory leaders around the world are all working to resolve this problem. It is time for the journals to “lean in.”

Criminal Justice Professor Cara Rabe-Hemp
Illinois State University

“Publish or perish” is tattooed on the mind of every academic. Like it or loathe it, publishing in high-profile journals is the fast track to positions in prestigious universities with illustrious colleagues and lavish resources, celebrated awards and plentiful grant funding. Yet somehow, in the search to understand why women’s scientific careers often fail to thrive, the role of high-impact journals has received little scrutiny.

One reason is that these journals don’t even collect data about the gender or ethnic background of their authors. To examine the representation of women within these journals, with our colleagues Jason Webster and Yuichi Shoda, we delved into MEDLINE, the online repository that contains records of almost every published peer-reviewed neuroscience article. We used the database to predict the gender of first and last authors on over 166,000 articles published between 2005 and 2017 in high-profile journals that include neuroscience, our own scientific discipline. The results were dispiriting.

Female scientists underrepresented

We began by looking at first authors – the place in the author list that traditionally is held by the junior researcher who does the hands-on research. We expected over 40 percent to be women, similar to the percentage of women postdocs in neuroscience in the U.S. and Europe. Instead, fewer than 25 percent first authors in the journals Nature and Science were women.

Our findings were similar for last authors, the place typically held by the laboratory leader. We expected the numbers to match large National Institutes of Health grants, which are a similarly rigorous measure of significance, scientific sophistication and productivity; 30 percent are awarded to women – comparable to the proportion of women tenure-track faculty in neuroscience. The proportion of women last authors was half what we expected – just over 15 percent of last authors in Science and Nature were women.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Ineptitude at Chernobyl

Lest the world forget, a historian delivers a devastating account of a 1986 catastrophe in which nearly everyone did nearly everything wrong.

In his book, “Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe,” (Basic Books, 432 pages), Serhii Plokhy describes a catastrophe that Russians living in that region will not forget. Some remember the horrible deaths of their loved ones who had been exposed to high levels of radiation. Indeed the world should not forget what happened at Chernobyl.

Serhii Plokhy has written a good analysis of the disaster at Chernobyl. The handling of the situtaion reveals government ineptitude, stonewalling, and deceit.

Henry Fountain has written a review of Plokhy's book. His review is titled, "Study in Ineptitude and Deceit." Here are the opening paragraphs:
A LITTLE MORE than 24 hours after Unit 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded and caught fire in April 1986, three men gathered in front of a pile of sand at a construction site a few miles away. With shovels, they started filling sandbags that the authorities planned to drop from helicopters in an effort to quench, or at least quiet, the nuclear inferno.  
But the men sweating over their shovels weren’t construction workers, or laborers of any kind. Far from it: One was a general in the Soviet Air Force, in uniform, and the other two were high-level government officials in business suits. They had been ordered to do the work by the deputy head of the Soviet government, who had come to Chernobyl a few hours before and was angry about the initial response to the accident
The anecdote is among the most revealing in Serhii Plokhy’s new history of the Chernobyl accident. Relying on official reports (including KGB memos), interviews, and other firsthand accounts, ”Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe” lays out in devastating detail how the Soviets were vastly unprepared, in ways small and large, for what became the worst disaster in the history of nuclear energy.
Read more here.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Hildegard von Bingen's Life of Service

Molly Sullens, Grade 8

Hildegard of Bingen was the most significant woman in science in the 11th century. She was centuries ahead of her time. She excelled in science, medicine, Christian theology and music. She is sometimes called the “Sibyl of the Rhine.”

She was born in Germany in 1098 and died in 1179. She was born during the first crusade, the youngest of 10 children. In noble families it was the custom for the tenth child to be given to the church, so she was given as a tithe to God. She went to live with the anchoress Jutta, a woman who withdrew from the word, living alone in a small enclosed area adjoining a church. The noble woman Jutta spent every day learning about God and praying.

Hildegard served as Jutta’s maid and apprentice from age 8 to 18. Jutta taught Hildegard about Christ and how to serve him. When Jutta died in 1136, Hildegard was unanimously elected the abbess in charge of the monastery that was over 400 years old. She was a Benedictine nun, which means that she lived in obedience to the Rule of Benedict. This rule meant a daily life of prayer, work, study, and offering hospitality.

In 1148 Hildegard decided to move the convent to Rupertsberg, separating the women’s ministry from that of the men. This decision was opposed by her abbot, but in 1150 the new convent was founded and Hildegard was in control. The Rupertsberg convent grew to as many as 50 women, most of whom came from wealthy backgrounds. Hildegard allowed the women to keep some of their jewelry, which gave them a sense of their family background.

As abbess, Hildegard’s duties included nursing, illuminating manuscripts, supervising the nuns, and travel in Germany and France. She also was in demand for her skills in helping the sick.

Hildegard was perhaps the most prolific writer of her time. She wrote hymns, treatises, plays, and over 300 letters. Most of her hymns have been performed and recorded by the ensemble Sequentia. The ensemble continued to record all of Hildegard’s music, ending their “music of the saints” project in 1998, the year celebrating Hildegard's 900th birthday.

In her letters Hildegard gave spiritual advice to people of both high and low estate. She wrote to chastise Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and the Archbishop of Main. She also wrote to St Bernard, King Henry II of England and his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Abbess Hildegard was a strong woman, though she regarded herself as a paupercula feminea forma, or poor weak woman. She held her ground when church authorities tried to force her to exhume the body of an excommunicated nobleman she had permitted to be buried on the convent grounds. This happened when she was in her eighties. Hildegard defied the authorities by hiding the grave, and the authorities excommunicated her entire convent community. Hildegard appealed the decision to higher church authorities and the sanction was finally lifted.

Hildegard suffered from extreme migraines, but luckily, she discovered the power of herbs that can calm nerves and relax muscles. Lemon balm, passion flower, catnip, and valerian are some of the herbs that she studied to discover some of their medical properties. She used plants from her own garden to do experiments and kept very detailed journals of all her experiments.

Hildegard wrote her two treatises between 1151 and 1161. These are often referred to by their Latin titles, Physica and Causae et Curae. Physica describes the characteristics of elements, mammals, reptiles, fish, birds, trees, metals, precious stones, and medicinal uses of over 200 plants. In Causae et Curae Hildegard describes forty-seven diseases according to causes, symptoms, and treatments and lists over 300 plants used to treat diseases.

Her book Scivias (Know the Ways of the Lord) is based on the visions that she received from God since age three. Hildegard had shared her visions with only two people: Jutta and another monk, named Volmar. Volmar served as Hildegard’s secretary until her death. The process of writing this book was drawn out over 10 years. In 1147 Pope Eugenius encouraged Hildegard to finish Scivias and eventually it was published with papal imprimatur. The book drew the attention of many throughout Europe.

She also wrote the Book of the Merits of Life. The sections of the book concern the “Man Looking to the East and to the South” (Part 1); the “Man Looking to the North and the West” (Part 2), and the “Man Looking Over the Whole Earth” (Part 5).

The Book of Divine Works (Liber divinorum operum) was published in 1163. In this book she wrote, “Whoever has submitted to God with humble devotion and been set alight by the aid of the Holy Spirit overcomes both what is corrupted within themselves and the devil; the angels rejoice because of the good works of the just and praise God’s omnipotence.”

She also wrote, “The Son of God’s love crushed the devil with its Cross, and its imitation treads now under foot discord among God’s faithful, other vices, and that ancient deceiver of the human race, and reduces them to nothing.”

Hildegard died in 1179 and was buried in her convent church. The convent was destroyed by the Swedes in 1632 and her relics were moved to Eibingen. She was a brilliant Christian woman who served others and left a great legacy. That legacy is being promoted by The International Society of Hildegard von Bingen Studies, established in 1983 by Professor Bruce Hozeski of Ball State University.

Hildegard accomplished great things in a time when women were not encouraged to excel outside of the family and home. She resisted pressure from her male superiors to do things their way and she pioneered a unique path as a Christian woman of science.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The 2018 ASA Annual Meeting

ASA 2018, our 73rd Annual Meeting at Gordon College, will be here in less than three months. There is a buzz of activity here in the home office with the many preparations!

I'd like to bring you a couple of updates regarding this special conference taking place here in Boston.

$50 Night Owl Discount Now Available through May 31

We are delighted that we had 215 early birds register for ASA 2018, which is an outstanding response. We are excitedly expecting another terrific attendance.

For the rest of you procrastinators, don't worry because we are pleased to announce the night owl discount of $50 through May 31. Register before then and receive a $375 member rate for only $325 (or a $425 non-member rate for $375). You can find all details and registration link here.

Our goal is an attendance of 350, so we would appreciate your help with spreading the word. Please let your family, friends, colleagues, and students know that this top-notch conference is not to be missed.

Public Lecture with Francis Collins

We are delighted that Francis Collins has accepted our invitation to speak at ASA 2018 on Saturday evening, July 28, 7:30 pm, as part of our Annual Meeting. This lecture is open to the public and we would love to fill the seats of the Gordon College chapel. If you live in the Boston area and/or have friends, colleagues, or members of your church who are NOT attending our meeting but would be interested in attending the lecture, tickets can be purchased in advance for $10/person ($15/person at the door). Contact the ASA office for group discounts. Click here for more.

Promotional Opportunities

We have a number of promotional opportunities for organizations and/or individuals to enrich their professional life, promote their cause and network with a broad group of scientists. Would you or someone you know benefit from hosting an exhibit table, advertising in the program book, or sponsoring an event at ASA 2018? Click here for more information.

Student Scholarship Fund

Student members are the future leaders of the ASA, and we welcome them to the Annual Meeting. Would you help replenish the scholarship fund to make attendance possible for more student members? To date, we have provided 22 scholarships, with new applications arriving daily. Please consider donating to provide more opportunity for students to engage in the ASA! Click here to donate.

I hope you are able to join us for ASA 2018!

Sincerely in Christ,

Vicki L. Best
Director of Operations and Development
American Scientific Affiliation
218 Boston Street
Topsfield, MA 01983
(978) 807-5189

Friday, May 4, 2018

How Humans Are Different

It is evident to anthropologists that humans are unique among the other living creatures on Earth. Our uniqueness is expressed in many ways. Here are a few examples.

The Conscience

Charles Darwin said that "blushing is the most peculiar and the most human of all expressions." No other mammal has this trait.

We blush when we are ashamed or embarrassed. But what makes us feel ashamed? We humans have something called a conscience. The conscience acts as a moral compass. It tells us when we are morally right and when we are morally wrong. Some consider this to be a mark of being in the image and likeness of the Creator (Genesis 2).

The Spoken Word

Humans use spoken language to inform each other about what is on our minds. We have the ability to describe things in great detail. We are able to articulate our feelings, to argue, and to discuss matters of importance. No other animal has this gift.

We make sense of the world by talking about it. We give names to things, just as Adam was told to name the living creatures in Eden.

The Imagination

Humans are imaginative creatures. This is expressed in many ways: art, symbolic communication, and story telling. We speak of events past, present, and future and we elaborate, adding details that make the story more interesting or funny. 

Jesus used stories, called "parables" to teach people about God and the Kingdom of Heaven. Philosophers use moralistic stories to teach ethics and moral behavior.  They hope that such instruction will help students to be productive citizens who contribute to the common good of their society.

Awareness of our Mortality

Humans are conscious of death. We know that humans die and that each of us will experience this reality. This recognition influences how we live each day. Some regard life as a gift and take care of themselves and others. Some regard human life a cheap, because, after all is said and done, we must die. 

Humans react differently to the reality of death. Some seek consolation in pleasures like food, alcohol, sex (hedonism). Others seek to be less interested in these in order to dedicate their time and effects to things that they believe are pleasing to God: humility, generosity, kindness, forgiveness, etc. These are people who look for "the life of the world to come." They believe that in that life, there will no longer be death and every tear will be wiped away. 

Homo Ludens (Playful Creature)

Humans are the only living creatures that have the ability to mentally stand apart from themselves to see the humor of our condition. We are able to crack jokes about our flaws and behaviors.

We are able to play games. We invent games to entertain ourselves. We laugh, dance, chase each other around, and strategize about how to gain an advantage over the other players.