Monday, December 15, 2014

Meet Hannah Ryan: A PROFILE OF TRANSFORMATION


Hannah Ryan recently joined the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) executive council as the student and early career representative.
      
Hannah Ryan
Graduate Student in Colorado


Hobbies: Playing the violin, reading theology, trail running, baking, writing letters, and drinking coffee with friends.

When did you first discover American Scientific Affiliation (ASA)?
I first heard about ASA as an undergraduate student at Westmont College.

How has your personal and spiritual life been changed because of your involvement with ASA?
The annual ASA conference at McMaster University was quite a formative experience for me. It was such a unique time to dialogue and fellowship with Christian scientists who are passionate about God’s Kingdom and the beauty revealed in science. I found the plenary sessions and short talks incredibly stimulating, and the issues presented made me think deeply about theology, apologetics, biblical hermeneutics, and science. I think that wrestling through a belief can lead to stronger conviction on the other side. And that certainly happened to me. My involvement with ASA has grown me into a more thoughtful and effective believer in Jesus Christ. 

What is the tangible evidence of the growth you've experienced?
I think the best evidence I have seen in my own life of ASA’s influence is the increased confidence I have in conversations about science and faith, whether that be with a high school student at youth group, a peer student in graduate school, a professor, or a non-believing skeptic. I am more informed about current topics in science and faith. And in this way, ASA has developed my apologetic skills, increasing my tool kit of rationalities and justifications of faith and teaching me how to engage with either the science-worshiping or science-fearing mind.

 How long have you been a member/donor and what has ASA meant to you?
I joined the organization as a member in February 2014. While searching for an article on genetic evolution, I stumbled upon the ASA website and noticed the upcoming conference in Hamilton, Ontario, and right away I knew I wanted to become a member and submit an abstract!

What do our friends and financial partners need to know about how ASA is making a difference?
ASA has an invaluable ministry to students. I don’t know of any other organization that really covers the bases that ASA does for science-minded young people. For me personally, there have been times where the overbearing worldview of secular academia was oppressive and disorienting. It was a gift to find a community of brilliant and passionate scholars who are deeply committed to Christ and could specifically encourage me in my faith journey.

ASA can reach young Christian scientists and equip them with tools to become strong leaders in their field and faithful proclaimers of truth. Additionally I think that ASA has wonderful potential to reach students who may be teetering on the edge of religious belief. I have found that often non-believing students have a misconception of Christianity, do not honestly assess their own doubts, and may be straying in false philosophical assumptions. The ASA community is qualified to minister to these types of students and explain the relevance of the Gospel in this context. 


Monday, November 17, 2014

Fewer Women in Biblical Archaeology


I teach in a Christian School where only men teach the Bible classes. I have offered several electives over the past 7 years on books of the Bible and rarely have I had a female student in the class. It may be that females are getting the idea that the Bible is a "guy thing." On the other hand, my course on "Women of the Bible" which I teach at a women's college has had only one male student in three years. Perhaps women are more likely to engage if the course of study is tailored to them. This is true certainly true for Biblical Anthropology, the field I have been pioneering for 30+ years.


Read more here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Reading God's Second Book


Delicate

Hello readers. I’m Karen McReynolds, a professor of science at Hope International University in sunny Orange County, California. Hope is a small Christian university, so small that I should really say “the” professor of science. (Well, we do have a couple of adjuncts this semester.) We offer upper division courses only through our contract program with the Cal State campus across the street, so my full time responsibility here is science for the non-major student meeting general education requirements. I teach biology, environmental science and earth science – quite a broad spectrum for the college level. I like the variety of courses though. My childhood home in rural central California nurtured in me a love for birds and sky and wetlands, framed by the distant Sierra Nevada. Our parents wisely let us kids roam, and even encouraged me by supplying my own Peterson’s Field Guide to Western Birds, the adult version, when I was eight. Now I do my best to encourage my students to marvel, as I do, at God’s Second Book: the Book of Nature.

I like to tell the students the first day of class that my role model is Ms. Frizzle. It’s always good for a laugh. I hope to share with you occasionally some reflections on nature, teaching, and the intersection of the two, in the indefatigable spirit of Ms. Frizzle.

Some years ago, my husband, my father and I were working as a team on a biological survey of a large property in the northern Sierra Nevada. This was rather like having our cake and eating it too. For three seasons in a row, our teaching schedules permitted several weeks in the summer at 6400 feet, making observations and collecting data on natural history while the heat of the San Joaquin Valley passed us right on by. We found time to jump in the lake at the end of each day, and slept outside on tent platforms under the wide open, star-laden sky each night.

One afternoon I took a path that was new to me and came across the remains of a fawn nestled in a hollow of pine duff. More accurately, it was a fragment of the remains of a fawn: most of the rib cage, a bit of the spine, and the right foreleg of a very small deer. It must have been out in the woods for a while, because the bones were nearly white and free of flesh. The tiny hoof at the end of the leg was graceful and dainty, quite miniature in comparison to the numerous hoof prints of mule deer I had seen through the weeks of this project. It had clearly been dragged in from somewhere else, as there was no sign of any of the rest of the body, but the way it was settled in its spot so tidily suggested that it had seen some seasons pass in that location. The doe that returned to her baby’s ill-chosen hiding spot had made her fateful discovery some time ago.

. . . . . . . . 


I am a rather clunky woman, heavy of foot and inclined to drop things. Perhaps in accordance with this, I frequently need to be whacked over the head by something before I will notice it. I have developed reasonably astute observation skills after years of field experiences and practice, but it has taken intentional effort and is not my default character. Perhaps this is why my discovery delighted me more than it made me sad. It made me realize that if such a delicate specimen could remain, there is hope that I too might leave something behind that could speak of life in the midst of death.

There isn’t much about me that is delicate. That is not a word I would think to apply to myself and indeed it is an adjective I seldom use at all. It certainly would not seem to be an appropriate term to describe skeletal remains. But nature subsists on inappropriate truth. In all its grisly detail, the evidence I encountered that day of the early death of a young deer was indeed quite strikingly beautiful and delicate.



Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Faith vs. Science Mentality


Kelli B. Trujillo
Embracing Science
Let’s put the faith vs. science mentality to rest

While there certainly are arenas in which the interaction between faith and science may be difficult to parse out, those experiences of tension certainly don't mean science must be rejected as a matter of faith.

By Kelli B. Trujillo

If you were to listen to the views espoused by some of today's foremost "new atheists," you'd quickly draw a conclusion: We humans don't need religion, faith, or "God" any more. Science has answered(or is answering or someday will answer) our questions. Faith—akin to belief in a made-up fairy tale—has no place in a life of honest, logical scientific inquiry.

And if you were to listen to the views perpetuated by some Christians, you'd quickly draw another conclusion: we Christians ought not trust science or its conclusions or, for that matter, most scientists. The Bible, rather than science, answers our questions. Wherever they appear to be in conflict, faith trumps science every time. Science—which is just secular humanism in disguise, after all—has no place in a life of true, devoted Christian faith.

But is this really the case? Are faith and science mutually exclusive—archenemies, locked in a centuries-long battle for truth? Ought people of faith stay away from the sciences and view scientific findings with suspicion (at best) or utter disbelief (at worst)?

Read it all here.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

How Far Can We Go With Science?


What a Wonderful World
How science leads us toward -not away from -our Creator
By Dr. Christa Koval with Amy Simpson

You are fearfully and wonderfully made! With more than 100 known elements in the universe, you are made of only 4. Your body is 96 percent oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen. And most other organisms share these elements with us. Isn't it amazing that such complexity and variety exist among living things as the result of combining only four elements in different ways?

Our bodies are just one mind-blowing element of God's impressive creation, all of which points directly to our Creator and teaches us about him. Hundreds of years of scientific discovery have revealed astounding depths of knowledge about our world, and yet in many ways we're still only just beginning to explore. Scientific exploration draws us toward a deeper appreciation of the unfathomable being who could create so much complexity—it moves us toward a deeper sense of awe and worship.

Consider plant life, for example. Plants use three of the elements found in our own bodies (oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen), plus the energy of sunlight to produce larger compounds. This process of photosynthesis is complicated and understanding it earned Melvin Calvin a Nobel Prize in 1961. But it wasn't until 1988, after 27 long years of additional research, that scientists understood the structure of RuBisCO, the enzyme required to initiate photosynthesis and the most abundant protein on earth (plants produce about 40 million tons per year). RuBisCO consists of a mind-boggling 37,792 atoms put together in a three-dimensional structure that will function only if every atom is in position. Our existence depends on this delicate balance.

Read it all here.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Our Big God and a Crisis of Faith



Ginger Kolbaba

Several years ago I had a crisis of faith. It all began with a Science Channel television program on supermassive black holes, of all things. Basically the premise was that scientists have discovered giant black holes (like the size of an entire solar system) in the center of every galaxy, and each plays an important role in the creation and sustainability of its particular galaxy.

The scientists described the extreme order of these black holes in the whole universal space-time continuum and how it’s forced them to rethink physics. The narrator, summing up several scientists, said, “If, as it now seems, every single galaxy has a black hole at its heart, this can’t be a coincidence.” 

You got that right, I thought. It’s called—we’ve got a supermassive, supergenius Creator at work in the universe.

My finite brain couldn’t handle the size and power and strength of my Creator.
Then the screen exploded with all these multi-colored, multi-shaped, multi-gaseous galaxies. And my brain, for an instant, exploded with how awesomely vast and mammoth our God is. My finite brain couldn’t handle the size and power and strength of my Creator.



Read it all here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Roughly 60% of Pioneers in Science Were Christians

Ian H. Hutchinson

Ian H. Hutchinson, Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, believes that there is no conflict between Christian belief and scientific thinking. That conclusion is reached by considering the percentage of pioneers in Science who self-identified as Christian. The percentage would be greater were the number of female pioneers added to this list. 

The following is an excerpt from his August 2002 American Scientific Affiliation Conference presentation  "Science: Christian and Natural."

Going further, though, I believe there is a constructive case to be made for the phrase Christian Science.

First, as represented by the theme of this conference "Christian Pioneers", we should recognize that modern science is built upon the foundational work of people who more than anything else were Christians. Christians were the pioneers of the revolution of thought that brought about our modern understanding of the world. MIT, my home institution, the high-temple of science and technology in the United States, has a pseudo-Greek temple architecture about its main buildings. The fluted columns are topped not with baccanalian freizes, but with the names of the historical heroes of science (not to mention William Barton Rogers, the founder). A rough assessment was carried out by a few of us some years ago of the fraction of the people listed there who were Christians. The estimate we arrived at was about 60%.

Any list of the giants of physical science would include Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Boyle, Pascal, Newton, Faraday, Maxwell, all of whom, despite denominational and doctrinal differences among them, and opposition that some experienced from church authorities, were deeply committed to Jesus Christ.

Second, I observed over the years in my interactions with Christians in academia, that far from scientists being weakly represented in the ranks of the faithful, as one would expect if science and faith are incompatible, they are strongly overrepresented. The sociological evidence has been studied systematically for example by Robert Wuthnow [Robert Wuthnow, The Struggle for America's Soul, Eerdmanns, Grand Rapids, (1989), p146.], who established that while academics undoubtedly tend to be believers in lower proportion than the US population as a whole, among academics, scientists were proportionally more likely to be Christians that those in the non-science disciplines. The common misconception that scientists were or are inevitably sundered from the Christian faith by their science is simply false.

Third, the question arises, why did modern science grow up almost entirely in the West, where Christian thinking held sway? There were civilizations of comparable stability, prosperity, and in many cases technology, in China, Japan, and India. Why did they not develop science? It is acknowledged that Arabic countries around the end of the first millenium were more advanced in mathematics, and their libraries kept safe eventually for Christendom much of the Greek wisdom of the ancients. Why did not their learning blossom into the science we now know? More particularly, if Andrew White's portrait of history, that the church dogmatically opposed all the "dangerous innovations" of science, and thereby stunted scientific development for hundreds of years, why didn't science rapidly evolve in these other cultures?


Monday, June 9, 2014

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Two Men Whose Lives Exploded Stereotypes About Science and Religion


Christopher M. Rios

On March 9, 2014, the world lost V. Elving Anderson (b. 1921), a geneticist at the University of Minnesota for more than three decades. Six months earlier we lost Oliver R. Barclay (1919-2013), one of the most influential evangelical leaders in Britain of the 20th century. In a century when science and religion too often appeared as antagonistic, these men showed that another path is possible.

V. Elving Anderson
1921-2014
Anderson studied genetic disorders, especially breast cancer and epilepsy, and served as assistant director and then director of the Dwight Institute for Human Genetics. He was also a devout Baptist who dedicated considerable time and energy in service to the church.

Anderson was the co-author of a 1995 book, “On Behalf of God: A Christian Ethic for Biology,” which explored two of the subjects closest to his heart.

“His idea was always that there’s no inherent contradiction between the two,” said his son, Dr. Carl Anderson, a psychiatrist in New York.

Oliver Barclay spent thirty-five years with the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF, formerly Inter-Varsity Fellowship), serving as General Secretary of from 1964 to 1980. Before then he had earned a PhD in zoology from Cambridge University, and in 1944, shortly before finishing his degree, founded a group today called Christians in Science.

Despite professional and geographic distance, these men shared an appreciation for both science and religion, rejecting the claim that affirmation of one meant rejection of the other. Together they helped redefine the evangelical engagement with science.

Oliver R. Barclay
1919-2013

When Anderson and Barclay first turned their attention to questions of science and faith, the outlook for a positive relationship between the two fields seemed bleak. During the opening decades of the century, notable figures in both science and theology sought reconciliation between discoveries about the natural world and traditional Christian doctrines. Soon after World War I these efforts virtually ceased and were overshadowed by the antievolutionary crusades of the 1920s. From the 1930s to the 1950s, while most trained scientists and theologians were ignoring each other, antievolutionism was incubated in America’s fundamentalist subculture, and by the 1960s began reemerging as “modern creationism.”

During the last third of the century, public figures such as Henry Morris and Ken Ham and groups such as the Creation Research Society and Answers in Genesis helped antievolutionary creationism become a movement within conservative Christianity and America culture more broadly. By the 1980s, church leaders, educational administrators, and local and national politicians were often heard questioning the validity of mainstream science. As a result, the assumption of many was that Christianity entailed a rejection of ideas fundamental to modern science, especially regarding evolution and the age of the universe.

Read it all here.


Both of these prominent scientists were members of the American Scientific Affiliation. If you are a Christian in STEM, consider joining ASA. The link to the website is here. Women who join are also added as members of Christian Women in Science (CWIS).



Saturday, May 17, 2014

Talking Science and the Bible with Prisoners


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 isn’t 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 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. It brings me balance. 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 seems to delay 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.



Tuesday, April 29, 2014

How Emily Ruppel Came into the Science-Faith Arena

Emily Ruppel

Emily Ruppel, Associate Director of Communications for the American Scientific Affiliation, tells about her unusual route into the science-faith arena, which began with a nun.


A few years ago while studying in the science writing master’s program at MIT, I heard about something rather brilliant from a friend at Harvard University. Brilliant things happen at Harvard all the time, of course, but this was ‘brilliant’ in a different way—unexpected, illuminating, and challenging, for the people it happened to. It opened up a course of conversation previously unavailable to its participants. It was controversial, too, in a quiet way.

What happened is this: a graduate student studying astronomy sent an email to her department announcing her imminent departure from the program. She had no qualms with administration nor academic difficulties to my knowledge. It’s just that, in her life, at that time, it had become impossible to ignore the calling to become a nun, rather than an astronomer. To study service and the word rather than cosmic forces and the vast heavens. Her love of Jesus, she wrote in her letter, was very important to her, and this path she was about to embark on, it seemed, would be the only truly fulfilling work she could spend her life doing.

I don’t know much else about the letter or its writer—whether the decision was sudden and easy or difficult and drawn-out, or maybe a mixture of all these things. I do know that surprise and chagrin rumbled throughout the astronomy department, where folks questioned what seemed an illogical and perhaps ill-fated decision.

Read it all here.




Wednesday, April 9, 2014

King's Ridge Christian School Hosts STEM Education Event


Alice C. Linsley

On January 25, 2014, the Atlanta chapter of Young Women In Bio (YWIB) conducted a STEM outreach event for middle and high school girls at King’s Ridge Christian School in Alpharetta, Georgia. The event was aimed at motivating young women to aspire to science careers, especially in life sciences. The event was led by women scientists with specialties in Molecular and Developmental Biotechnology, Microbiology, Genetics and Neuroscience. The workshop involved hands-on classroom activities where students learned about the human skeletal system, different kinds of viruses, the human brain and the neurological processes behind human vision.

Hunter Chadwick
Quizzes were given along with prizes for the winners and the day concluded with a panel discussion featuring women from diverse STEM backgrounds and at different stages of their careers.

The Atlanta chapter of WIB was founded in 2012, to cater to the women in the life sciences sector. WIB-Atlanta provides women a space to interact and exchange information and ideas, through a wide range of social gatherings and educational workshops.

Hunter Chadwick, Principal of the High School, said, “The opportunity to host such an event was extremely rewarding and special for us. We hope we can offer similar events in the future and appreciate the time and education of those involved.”

The successful event at King’s Christian School can serve at a model for CWIS and ASA in considering similar events. We could begin by contacting local Christian schools about hosting a Science Day.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Scientist and a Christian: One Woman's Perspective


Lynn Billman

What If a Woman Wants to Believe in Both Jesus and Science?

This may seem a strange question to many of you, but it is not strange to a young Christian, “on fire for Christ” as we say, who is also on fire to know the what, how, and when about the natural world.   As Tim Stafford pointed out recently, such a young person from a conservative church background is at high risk to lose her faith in the pursuit of scientific knowledge. In fact, some bloggers or commentators today simply cannot understand how anyone with a rationale mind (i.e., a scientist) could accept the teachings and divinity of Christ or accept the Bible as a sacred and vital book.  

I was once in that quandary – well, sort of, because my path was the other way around.  Science came first.  I loved science in high school, and graduated with highest honors in chemistry at UC Berkeley.   As a chemist, I loved working in the analytical lab of a major oil company, identifying unknown substances, trying to figure out why this engine part failed, and so on.  It was mystery, logical thinking, and discovery. 

But by mid-life, my personal life was in deep difficulty – unhappy marriage, three little kids, no help, nowhere to turn.  Churches were familiar from my young childhood as places of solace, although I never did get the Jesus “thing.”  When I finally tried church again in mid-life, people were indeed friendly, and someone watched the kids for an hour for free. Then, at a women’s retreat I was desperate enough to try, total strangers loved so unconditionally, in all my pain.  I decided then that I wanted to see what this Jesus thing was really about – this Jesus that the women claimed was the source of their love for me.

That was 24 years ago.  I began to read anything I could find on Christ, the Bible, and living as a Christian.  I dug into apologetics and the “5,000 answers to tough passages in Scripture” with the same fervor I dug into analytical problems in the lab.  I asked the tough questions – I still ask the tough questions --  and, yes, fundamental Christianity caused some cognitive dissonance.  I remember asking myself, do I have to give up believing that life evolved in order to have the love of Christ that I so craved?   

Through my journeying, I have found that I can indeed believe in the scientific process with its flaws, in the Christian church (writ large) with its flaws, and most wholeheartedly, in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  But I no longer hold “religious fundamentalist” views, in the general sense of the term.  My constant seeking of Jesus has taken me to experience many different Christian traditions, and some non-Christian, and my spiritual views have broadened.  But I see myself as a good example of how it is very possible to be a Christian and a scientist, without schizophrenia or other dissociative disorders!

There are others of us, too.  More than ten years ago, I found the American Scientific Affiliation.  It is a great place for people like me. ASA is a fellowship of Christians involved in all areas of science, engineering, and related.  We don’t take positions on issues, but try to provide a place for respectful discussion and scholarly investigation of science and Christian faith.  ASA members include Nobel Laureates and common lab rats, students and theologians – but all Christians, and all doing or involved with respected science.  We even have a new group within ASA called Christian Women in Science (CWIS link), because Christian women have even more issues pursuing a career in science, engineering, and related than do Christian men. ASA has a scholarly journal; as an example, here is an issue devoted to papers on evolution.  We also have an e-zine on God and Nature, with many types of interesting essays and insights for the less scholarly reader.  Lastly, anyone is welcome to join us at our annual conference, held every summer over a weekend, with inspiring speakers from a variety of science disciplines (coming up:  July 25-28, 2014, Hamilton, Ontario  link). 

Also, another great organization for those who pursue serious science and serious Christian faith is BioLogos.  BioLogos differs from ASA in specifically focusing on the issues about evolution, and striving towards a mission “to help the church develop a worldview that embraces both of these complex but complementary ways of understanding the world and our place in it.” 

So if you want to believe in both science and Jesus, you’re not alone.  Come, join us for fellowship and shop talk!


Saturday, March 1, 2014

In Science, Mentors Matter


Alice C. Linsley

I have been pioneering the new field of Biblical Anthropology for over 30 years. This discipline applies the tools and methods of anthropology to Biblical texts with wonderful results that have led to significant discoveries about Abraham's ancestors, the origin of difficult Hebrew words, and the relationship of castes and clans named in the Bible.

Because this is a new field, there are no degree programs at any universities in the world, so interested young people contact me with questions. They express their interest in this research and some have asked me to mentor them. At this point I am working with 3 people and I am delighted that they are helping to lay the foundation for this new field of scientific investigation.

Mentors matter so much in science. Those who are just getting started need experienced people to help them negotiate the challenges of entering a career. Sharing experiences and insights can benefit both parties. The mentor should remain available for as long as that relationship proves helpful, but as with a parent-child relationship, a time comes when the students must launch out on their own. That's when they will develop greater confidence and are more likely to make their own discoveries.

Here is an article in which four female mentors share their wisdom with a graduate student who wants to make the most of the mentoring relationship.


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Christian Women in STEM are a Vulnerable Minority


Lynn Billman is the President of Christian Women in Science. She recently wrote an excellent article that appeared at Huff Post/Religion about Christian women in STEM. Here are the opening paragraphs:

Christian Women in STEM are a Vulnerable Minority

Lynn Billman

As the President of Christian Women in Science (CWIS, part of the American Scientific Affiliation), I hear many stories about the struggles of women of this faith who are interested or work in science, technology, engineering and math. Some stories are encouraging, but others are enough to break my heart.
2014-02-25-kristeninlab.jpg
Rochelle was a high school biology student who was excited about the advances in genetics that her teacher shared with her in school. She dreamed of making a difference in the world by doing medical research. However, when her church youth leader told her that there were too many gaps in the fossil record to believe evolution and that only atheists believed in evolution, Rochelle's sense of direction began to waver. If she became a medical researcher, would she have to give up her Christian friends?

Liz had enjoyed her 10 years as a geology professor at a mid-sized state college. She rarely talked about being a Christian, but recently the subject came up when she told her department head about spending her weekend serving supper at the local Christian mission, and telling people about the love of Jesus. A couple months later her application for tenure was turned down. She never got a clear explanation of why she was rejected. As Liz found, being a Christian and a scientist in a secular institution can feel like being a "lesbian still in the closet."

Read the whole article here.


Friday, February 21, 2014

International Congress of Quantum Chemistry President Apologizes


Bias against women in science reared its ugly head last week when the preeminent conference for theoretical chemistry posted a list of two dozen confirmed speakers without including a single woman.

A group of female scientists promptly called for a boycott, but faced backlash from a prominent chemist who dismissed their efforts as “nonsensical” and “trendy whining about supposed ‘gender inequality.’”

More on that in a bit, but first some background. The International Congress of Quantum Chemistry is held by the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Sciences and scheduled for June in Beijing next year. When the conference revealed its initial speaker list (since taken down from the website), every one was male.

“It happened again — another major theoretical chemistry conference features an all-male program,” reads the boycott petition, which was written by theoretical chemists Anna Krylov, Emily A. Carter and Laura Gagliardi and received 835 signatures within a few days.

Read it all here.

An apology came from the President of The International Congress of Quantum Chemistry. Apologies should be follow by action to correct wrongs. Let's hope that happens.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Dorothy Boorse on interrplay of faith and science




Professor Dorothy Boorse discusses her path from pre-med student to wetland ecologist, the dynamic interplay between faith and science, and the freedom afforded by the Christian liberal arts environment within the Gordon community. Her ability to provide this kind of wise insight to students as they grow in faith and academic understanding makes Dr. Boorse a memorable mentor at Gordon College.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Laughter is Good Medicine


Laughter
By Ruth Bancewicz



Photo by Uschi Hering, http://www.sxc.hu/

What makes you laugh uncontrollably? Sick humour? Children saying funny things? Your own attempts to master a dance move? Some of the most memorable chuckles for me have been caused by typos in emails (either my own or other people’s) that resulted in somewhat inappropriate – but thankfully very obviously wrong – meanings.

This week, Revd Dr Joanna Collicutt, Karl Jaspers Lecturer in Psychology and Spirituality at Ripon College Cuddesdon, spoke at the Faraday Institute on ‘A Merry Heart Doeth Good Like a Medicine: Humour, religion and wellbeing’.

A number of clinical studies have been carried out on humour and physical wellbeing, and like research on religion and health, the results of these studies vary widely. For religion, the overall trend is towards better health among people who have religious beliefs and practices, but the same is not true for humour. So while people who are sick tend to feel better when they laugh, their symptoms may not be affected.

There are of course many different types of humour, and they all have different effects. The appropriate sort of humour can be a coping mechanism to help in difficult situations. Bad jokes can break friendships, but laughing to build bonds among colleagues or friends is healthy – building self esteem and protecting against depression. Humour that keeps your friends laughing and you feeling good about yourself can be very healthy, but it can also be a way of ignoring problems. Some people manage to use self-deprecating humour in a positive way, but others are self-defeating.

In the past, humour was seen as a vice, possibly because it can often be subversive, but now it is generally seen as a character strength. Humour helps us to handle incongruous situations and make sense of things, recognise our own stupidity without condemning ourselves, or let off steam. Humour can, on the other hand, be used to devalue things or people, or exert superiority. Wit is generally thought to be the most clever sort of humour, but can also be the most damaging. For example, in Jane Austen’s novel Emma the heroine has to learn to control her wit and not hurt people with it.

Surprisingly (to me), laughter is more often mentioned negatively than positively in the Bible. Cynical humour is connected to ignoring, disbelieving or disobeying God. But does the fact that Jesus and others are not mentioned laughing mean they didn’t enjoy a joke? The Bible only records those events that were most important for the reader to learn from (so it doesn’t mention dinosaurs at all, and there are very few mentions of breakfast, toilets and shoes). My experiences of the Middle East have been full of smiles and laughter, and I expect the disciples’ gatherings were the same.

Humour involves a lack of inhibition, which can be a very good thing if our inhibitions are stopping us receiving from God. Prophets often have a subversive message, which can be particularly important at the renewal phase of religions. If humour helps us to disengage from unhelpful dogma and be open to a new realisation of what is most true and important, we should welcome that. Finally, absurdity can get a point home – and Jesus did use this sort of illustration in his teaching (e.g. The camel and the needle).

So we laugh because we realise things are true. We laugh in surprise when people challenge received wisdom. We laugh because the supposedly serious is made absurd. We laugh because if we didn’t we’d cry – when we are coping with adversity. And most important of all we laugh in delight, enjoying the present moment. I didn’t expect to laugh so much in a seminar, but it seems that humour is an important part of both faith and academia.

Reprinted with permission from Science and Belief


Monday, February 3, 2014

Christians in STEM are not easily labeled


How does a scientist define themselves when their work isn’t their primary identity? This month’s guest post is from Emily Sturgess, a biologist who has found a niche in Oxford.

It took me a while to realise that when you introduce yourself to someone you don’t have to define yourself with a single label. As if the supplies in the stationery cupboard were rationed, I felt for a long time that I was allowed only one label to stick on myself to describe what I do. I am the Development Officer for Christians in Science, so I spend a lot of time with people who describe themselves as ‘scientists’. That makes a lot of sense: they actively participate in scientific research, are employed by science departments in universities, and think ‘scientifically’. It is their profession, and the label is wholly applicable.

All the same, I have always been slightly uneasy about declaring myself a scientist. Aside from the fact that due to an archaic honours system I actually have a BA not a BSc, I do have undergraduate and masters degrees in science subjects (Biological Sciences, and Species Identification, respectively), but I’m still not convinced. Logically, some of this could stem from the fact that I am not actually employed in research. In reality, it’s probably because I don’t want to commit to a single label until people see that ‘scientist’ encompasses so many traits!

I certainly was not the classic ‘born scientist’, but I fell in love with biology as a teenager and pursued it as far as I could. My masters was no strategic career move – I just really wanted to learn to identify plants, animals, and shockingly to all including myself, moss. Honestly, there’s no beauty quite like watching a desiccated moss sample being revived with a few drops of water. The cells dry up when you keep them as herbarium specimens, but that makes them almost impossible to identify because the shapes of the tiny leaves are distorted. If you drop water onto the specimen, however, even if it has been dried and hidden away for years, by what seems some wonderful magic the leaves spring back to life, unfurling under the microscope before your eyes.

So when I speak to other biologists, I also am a biologist. But when I speak to other writers I am a blogger; when I speak to students I am a student leader; when I speak to someone who needs something organising I am an administrator…and through all of those things I am also a Christian, following Jesus whole-heartedly, and hoping that will impact those around me.

So what do you do with an identity that seemingly isn’t tied up in one field, but flits happily between several? Which label are you allowed to wear, when in some ways you’re a scientist but in other ways you’re not? Thankfully for me, I am lucky enough to have found a job that allows me to be a scientist and a Christian, at the same time as everything else.

Working for Christians in Science has been a big release for me, because I love and understand the subject matter and am hungry to know more about almost every aspect of the science-faith dialogue. My role also allows me to be creative and administrative, and gives me time – which I wouldn’t have if I was actively involved in research – to get things done practically for the organisation. Being able to resource so many research scientists, students, teachers, and others, in their walk with God is a real privilege.

It is always humbling to see God taking the eclectic strands of our lives that had previously been wisping all over the place, and weaving them together. It is encouraging that God sees our whole selves – all the facets of our being that he prompts us to invest in – and finds ways to work them together. It always reminds me how much wiser he is than me! He sees our science and our faith and knows how to bring them together. But he sees all the other elements too: our leadership skills, pastoral hearts, discernment, creativity, logical thinking, and everything else that we consider gifts and skills but perhaps haven’t quite known what we are meant to do with them in our professional lives.

As Ruth has blogged before, there is a great call for creativity in science. I believe that there is also a place in science for all our other gifts: being wise when we give advice to others, gracious in our set-backs, and discerning and pastoral in the staff-room. We don’t have to be given a role that specifies those things in the job description to work them into our professional lives.

So for me, defining who I am and what I do was never just a case of how I brought my science and my belief together. More than that, it has been about how I am able to bring all of myself together: in my pursuit of science, in my pursuit of fulfilment, and most importantly in my pursuit of God – covered in as many labels as possible.

Emily Sturgess blogs sporadically at http://love-laugh-photograph.blogspot.co.uk, and is based in Oxford.

Reproduced with permission from Science and Belief.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

CWIS-ASA: A Place to Connect


Lynn Billman
President CWIS

Do you want to get acquainted with other Christian Women in Science in your area? Would you like to connect with other ASA-CWIS supporters in your state? Would you like to connect with other Christian women chemists, astronomers, or physicists? 

As a professor at a Christian college, would you like to know other Christian women professors near you?  Well, you can do all that and more by searching the ASA Membership Directory at the ASA website. 

The ASA Membership Directory is for members only and only appears when you sign in. It is not public information and this is the membership data the search engine depends on. So, if you are not receiving information from ASA or CWIS it may be that your addresses are not current. Check out the Membership Directory and update your ASA profile.

The search fields I find most useful are:
Name – to find one person
Location (i.e., State) – to find who is in my state
Profession – to find someone in the clergy, medical, government research,  and other professions.
Discipline – to find people in biology, astronomy, engineering, or other areas

After you decide how these search elements may be helpful to you, you have a choice of searching the entire ASA membership list, or you may search “Affiliate:  Christian Women in Science.”  Checking CWIS will help you find others who have signed up as members of our ASA group, thereby demonstrating their interest and commitment to the challenges faced by Christian women in STEM. 

While you’re at it, check out the ASA website in general. You’ll find a lot of interesting information – major science headlines, God and Nature magazine, information on the upcoming ASA annual conference (July 2014 in Ontario), and loads of great articles, blog posts, news feeds, etc., on science and Christianity. Check it out today!  And use the ASA Membership Directory to find other CWIS members in your area.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Christian Schools Committed to STEM


One gets the impression that Christian schools are far behind public and secular private schools when it comes to stimulating interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Here is a Christian School that is bucking that trend. Valley Christian School has its main campus in Cerritos, California.

The Nation’s science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce is crucial to America’s innovative capacity and global competitiveness. Yet women are vastly underrepresented in STEM jobs and among STEM degree holders despite making up nearly half of the U.S. workforce and half of the college-educated workforce.

That leaves an untapped opportunity to expand STEM employment in the United States, even as there is wide agreement that the nation must do more to improve its competitiveness.

• Although women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs. This has been the case throughout the past decade, even as college-educated women have increased their share of the overall workforce.

• Women with STEM jobs earned 33 percent more than comparable women in non-STEM jobs – considerably higher than the STEM premium for men. As a result, the gender wage gap is smaller in STEM jobs than in non-STEM jobs.

• Women hold a disproportionately low share of STEM undergraduate degrees, particularly in engineering.

• Women with a STEM degree are less likely than their male counterparts to work in a STEM occupation; they are more likely to work in education or healthcare.

There are many possible factors contributing to the discrepancy of women and men in STEM jobs, including: a lack of female role models, gender stereotyping, and less family-friendly flexibility in the STEM fields. Regardless of the causes, the findings of this report provide evidence of a need to encourage and support women in STEM.

At Valley Christian School, we are committed to stimulating and nurturing all of our student’s interests in STEM education. More than just an academic requirement, VCS is committed to several programs that are designed to develop a passion in our students for STEM….from Science Camps and Robotic Camps to partnerships with NASA. Parents such as Greg Campbell, Paul and Ginger De Vries, John Ward and Barbara Sarmiento are just a few who help out in these areas. Faculty like John Tiersma and Pamela Leestma, and many more, are developing visionary programs.

From here.

Here is some recent news that proves the school's commitment to Science and Technology:

Valley Christian STEMWorks kicked off the 2014 First Robotics Competition season at the VCHS chapel on Saturday, January 4. A sizable crowd of approximately 90 attendees, including 21 members of EPIC Robotz team 4415 were present. This is Valley Christian’s 3rd year with high school robotics, the first year solely as a VCS team.

For this year’s challenge called “Areal Assist,” the robot will be designed to move and throw a 30-inch ball from one robot to another, then pass through a rectangular hole 12 feet above the ground. The mentors and team members have 6 weeks to design, build, and test their creation as they prepare for the March 20-22 competition at the Long Beach Convention Center. The team will also complete a business component to create web sites, produce animations, marketing, pit design, and acquire data for a business intelligence application.