Science, Faith, and Public Policy

The 2010 ASA annual meeting is set to begin on Friday July 30. The first plenary talk will feature Congressman Venon Ehlers, an ASA member for many years. Other plenary speakers and contributed papers can be seen in the final program and the abstract book.

Audio files of talks are being posted at

Attendees and ASA members are encouraged to use the comment feature of this post to submit comments and questions pertaining to any aspect of this meeting. Speakers will be encouraged to respond to any question directed to them.

The goal of our organization is to facilitate dialog among Christians in a context of Christian love, without fear of unjust condemnation. We do not shy from controversial topics but encourage respectful discussion of any topic related to science and faith, within the context of our statement of faith and our commitment to integrity in the practice of science.

Let the discussion begin.


12 comments to Science, Faith, and Public Policy

  • Mark Strand

    I appreciate all your hard work in preparation, and I’m looking forward to a great conference.  Mark Strand

  • Randy Isaac

    The pre-meeting activities began tonight with a private tour of the David H Koch Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. Curator Rick Potts led the tour, providing his personal perspective on the realization of his 25-year quest to present to the public the latest data relevant to human origins. The exhibit poses the question, “what does it mean to be human?” Instead of answering the question, it encourages us to answer, providing us intriguing clues to what it might have meant in the past.
    The exhibit is breathtaking in its scope and realistic portrayal of what life may have been like in the past. I was impressed that the recurring message was “How do we know that?” at every step, allowing us to ascertain the basis for the information.
    It was amazing to see how in the last decade or two, new technology has enabled scientists to ascertain in much greater detail what past beings ate and how they lived. It was particularly striking to see how two of the greatest impact on human development were social interaction/learning and climate change. As the climate fluctuated, the ability to adapt helped early hominins to survive and flourish.
    One of the puzzling elements in this topic is what to call the numerous species that have been discovered that are part of our heritage in some way. Are they hominids? Yes, but that includes the great apes as well. Are they hominins? Yes, that is unique to species after the breakaway from the chimps and bonobos. Are they early humans? Yes, they are early indeed. Are they human? Ah, that is the question. And we are challenged to understand at a deeper level just what that means.
    I give Rick Potts and his team enormous credit for a tremendous job in putting together such an impressive display of discoveries and for presenting them in such a clear and understandable way. It will stimulate thoughtful discussion for a long time to come.


  • Randy Isaac

    Tonight the meeting formally opened our first plenary speaker. Congressman Vernon Ehlers graciously took time for the busy schedule of a Congress winding up for recess to speak to us as the keynote for our theme. He spoke eloquently about his experience as a physicist making the transition from the head of the physics department at Calvin College to being one of the few scientists in Congress. His integrity and expertise in science and ecological interest have earned him great respect from both sides of the aisle.
     Ehlers is passionate about science, faith, and public policy and he enjoys speaking about it. He urged us to give serious consideration to participating in the political process. Scientific knowledge is a valuable perspective in setting policy of many areas. There are few scientists in congress or in congressional staffs meaning that any one scientist can make a big difference.
      For a group accustomed to considering only academia or possibly industrial research as a career path, Ehlers’ challenge was a new possibility. Christians in science would do well to consider this avenue. It can make a big difference.

  • Randy Isaac

    The primary set of activities today that preceded the opening of the conference involved a diverse array of field trips orchestrated by our local arrangements chair, Paul Arveson. There were some local campus tours such as the magnificent Basilica. Another campus tour was the vitreous glass lab. CUA physicists have developed expertise in  large-scale formation of vitreous glass that can encapsulate radioactive waste material. They optimize the process to maximize the solubility of the waste isotopes in question. This solidification allows the waste to be stored safely, compared with liquid phases, virtually indefinitely. The CUA technique is being scaled up at placees like Hanford, WA.
    Other tours went to NASA Goddard Space Flight Center which is always a delight. Others went on a canal ride and another tour to the Arboretum.

    I headed back to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum where Dr. Rick Potts had invited me to be one of the guests, with Jim Miller, on their HOT (Human Origins Today) topics program. In the theater area of the exhibit in the hall of human origins, after Rick and Jim gave an introduction, I was given a chance to make a few comments on science and faith before opening the floor to questions. The questions were very good followed by active discussion. Topics ranged from the view of origins from diverse religions to the understanding of Adam and Eve to the diversity of hominid fossils and many other issues. This is a monthly forum and every other month is devoted to the Broad Social Impact Committee that Dr. Potts organized to address the science/faith issues.

    It’s a great start to what promises to be a stimulating conference.


  • Terry M. Gray

    The ASA meeting on Twitter at

    Any other contributors? Use #asa2010 as the hashtag.

  • Randy Isaac

    How could one possibly summarize today’s events? Three plenary speakers and 38 contributed papers are an overload for even a skilled multitasker. I’m eager to hear the DVD of Sara Miles’ talk, which I unfortunately missed while attending to some of the inevitable crises in meetings such as this. The other two plenaries were outstanding.
     Stan Bull gave a powerful global perspective on renewable energy. From his vantage point at the National Renewable Energy Research Lab he was able to provide insight into the opportunities for sustainable energy sources. It may come as no surprise that he touted solar energy as the most plentiful resource to be tapped but I was surprised at the potential he cited of wind energy. Global use of wind energy has increased dramatically in the last decade and the growth is likely to continue to accelerate. Part of the stewardship God has given us for this earth is to use these energy resources wisely.
     Francis Collins was in top form, as always, giving us his personal testimony, insights into progress in genetics, and sharing his experiences of what it means to be a scientist who believes in God. I was most encouraged by his comments about progress in genomic sequencing as applied to cancer. He said several new sub-types of glioblastoma have been identified through sequencing, which are now the subject of new drug research. He told us the story reported by CBS of a stage IV lung cancer patient who was now in remission after a trial of a drug determined through DNA sequencing of that cancer. Most of all, it was encouraging to see how his faith is growing and thriving as he continues to lead the NIH.
     It was a real pleasure to have the Korean Christians in Science and the Korean Christian Forum in Science and Engineering join us for this meeting. They are well represented and gave some talks. Their organizations will have additional sessions following our meeting, having been organized about 5 years ago and having been patterned after the ASA.
    With four parallel sessions, it’s hard to summarize the rest. for those of you that attended some of the sessions, feel free to chime in with your own reactions.

  • Randy Isaac

    Sunday began with a worship service led by Rev. McGarrahan from National Presbyterian. I think it’s great that we begin each day with devotions and Sundays with a worship service. The singing send chills up my spine. Not that the quality of the music is so great. After all, there’s a reason why we’re in science instead of being professional musicians. But the passion for Christ and the love of God just pours out of each mouth and we do make a very joyful noise to the Lord.

  • Ted Davis

    I’ll be honest: I don’t have the same level of interest in public policy issues as I do in many other aspects of science and faith, so I wasn’t expecting all that much (for myself) from our meeting this year.  I must say, I have some thinking to do after hearing so many excellent talks about such a wide range of policy issues.  Susan Daniels’ program did us proud!  I can’t recall ever learning so much from one of our meetings–perhaps because I knew so little going into it, but also because it was such a well-organized and well-chosen set of presentations.
    Let me add something concerning one of my own presentations, which wasn’t about policy–the talk about “Darwin and Religion” on Sunday afternoon.  Several people have talked to me about aspects of that talk, which (I sense) represented for them a new way of thinking about the ongoing conversation about evolution and Christian beliefs.  A number of folks want to see the cartoon about the staircase, and want to hear a bit more about Polkinghorne’s views.  Therefore, I’ll link a short piece I wrote about Polkinghorne, using that cartoon, for the online version of “First Things” magazine:
    If anyone wants to talk about this further, I’ll stay tuned.

  • Mark Strand

    I really enjoyed the conference.  I was thinking that maybe we need a discussion where we try to integrate the core historic doctrines of the gospel with some of the things we are learning from science.  It would be a fascinating chance for theologians who live science to collaborate with scientists who love theology to create some new products.

  • Carlos Pinkham

    This was my third conference in a row since joining in 2007.  For nearly 30 years I reflected deeply on how God used evolution to providentially produce us.  This was done in a near intellectual vacuum (Vermont doesn’t provide many like-minded people to discourse with) and after all that time, I am delighted to find others who think as I do.  The largest problem with my isolation was that it provided no theological center.  I am slowly coming to see the importance of “accommodation” to our thinking.
    It is exactly this unique opportunity for acquisition and assimilation of a new vocabulary (and new ideas) from considerate, like-minded people that makes the ASA Annual Conference what it is for me.  Four  years ago, I would never have used the word “accommodation” to describe Genesis 1-11.  Denis Lamoureux’s   workshop (Denis is one of ASA’s champions of accommodation) was excellent.  We need more of the same.

July 2010
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