Richard Johns on Materialism and Creativity, October 21


Dr. Richard Johns, PhD Philosophy of Science UBC 

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Department of Philosophy, Langara College

Can Physical Systems be Creative?

Tuesday, October 21 at 4:00 p.m.

Woodward (IRC) Room 5 (UBC Gate One)



There are many arguments against materialism that take the general form: “Materialism is false because it cannot account for X”, where X might be consciousness, rational understanding, human free will, or the evolution of life.  Such arguments are advanced today by philosophers such as Thomas Nagel, David Chalmers and Alvin Plantinga.  Dr. Johns sees the last two arguments as linked, since free will and evolution both require creativity, in a sense that seems to be incompatible with both determinism and randomness (or a combination of them).  In this talk our speaker will define what it means for a process to be creative, and show that free will and biological evolution (as well as engineering) require creativity in this sense.  He will then look at arguments that material systems cannot be creative, and consider objections to them.


Dr. Richard Johns was born in the UK, and did his undergraduate training in mathematics and engineering before switching to logic and philosophy of science in graduate school.  He moved to Vancouver, B.C. to finish his PhD in philosophy at UBC.  Since then he taught philosophy courses at UBC and SFU before accepting a permanent position at Langara College.  His main research interest concerns the objective meaning of “probability”, as used in physical theories, which is the topic of his book, A Theory of Physical Probability (U. of T. Press, 2002).   He is also interested in the limits of self-organisation in physics, the question of whether material systems can have understanding, the possibility of free will in a material universe, and the recent emergence of “safety” as an overriding moral imperative.


Possible Reading: Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies; Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos; David ChalmersThe Character of Consciousness (2010). Oxford University Press


Dawkins-Lennox Debate, September 22 @ UBC

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Oxford Biology Professor Richard Dawkins

will debate

Oxford Mathematician/Philosopher Dr. John Lennox

Monday, September 22 @ 4:00 p.m.

Woodward IRC Room 6, UBC Gate One

Screening of  a film of a recent debate on The God Delusion followed by a panel discussion with

Dr. Dennis Danielson English Department UBC, and Dr. David Helfand, President of Quest University, Squamish, BC 

If you want to watch the entire film of the Dawkins-Lennox Debate go to YouTube:

Post-Event Commentary on the Helfand-Danielson Dialogue

A. Dr. Bert Cameron, former Head of Nephrology at UBC

se are deluded and doing harm”, there is little to discuss. Prof. Helfand’s statement that the universe is meaningless, reflects his subjective conclusion based on his personal experience and reasoning. As such, according to his own criteria, this opinion should not be given weight as scientific evidence.

I thought Dennis Danielson’s contribution was helpful

- rejection of the “non-overlapping magisterium” approach

- accepting God as an agent but more interest in what kind of God

- faith supported by scripture, history and experience

- pointing out that roots of science inspired by theological insight (I would add health care to that)

Professor Helfand’s presentation took me by surprise so I have had to think about it. He claims to be a complete sceptic. He begins with the premise that “there is absolutely no meaning to life whatsoever” therefore he claims not to be looking for meaning but only for understanding of mechanism. From this starting point he is convinced that the methods of science provide the best basis for understanding. Even here however, all findings are tentative, he claims to have “no faith” in any theory. “Subjective evidence is not a category” for him. Even the fact that the universe is explicable is just a “contingent hypothesis”. He would give little credence to any theory, including the “multiverse”, until there was some empirical evidence for it.

Thus, though Dawkins and Prof. Helfand both claim to be atheists, he isn’t particularly a Dawkins fan. In this, he is in company with a number of other non religious intellectuals such as Terry Eagleton, John Gray and Thomas Nagel.

We really didn’t question Prof. Helfand on this, but he does not seem to be driven by the same moral imperative of Dawkins and some others such as Hitchins and Harris, that religion is so harmful it needs to be driven from the world.

He seemed rather to be expressing a personal perspective that might be summarized like this: “At this point in my life I have come to the conclusion that there is no overarching or ultimate meaning. I look at this fascinating and strangely  intelligible universe that I love to explore but I am not inclined to consider the possibility of a designer. I  find sufficient personal meaning in exploring and understanding the mechanisms of the cosmos which the physical and evolutionary sciences seem to be in the process of elucidating while recognizing that this understanding is based on a ‘contingent hypothesis’.”

It seems to me, that unless Prof. Helfand takes some moral conclusion from this, such as “others ought to think as I do” or “people who find meaning in the universe are deluded and doing harm”, there is little to discuss. Prof. Helfand’s statement that the universe is meaningless, reflects his subjective conclusion based on his personal experience and reasoning. As such, according to his own criteria, this opinion should not be given weight as scientific evidence.

Most of our understandings and decisions in life are based on data that would be considered  “subjective” since it is not empirically tested or testable. However, that does not mean that it is unreasonable to accept it.  As far as Christian faith is concerned, as Dennis quoted, Christians are called to “give a reason for the hope that is within them.”

 David Helfand, a prestigious Columbia astronomer, placed his whole position behind Karl Popper and the falsification doctrine. He took the position of mechanism and claimed that meaning is in the realm of religion which he rejects. From is perspective life is meaningless. He held to a non-overlapping magisterium between science and religion. He didn’t totally agree with Dawkins on all points. Danielson does not see this sharp distinction between the realm of science and the realm of religion. He believes in both God and good science; religion and science are two ways of understanding one world as physicist Jon Polkinghorne might say.
B. Dr. Richard Johns, Philosophy of Science and Logic at Langara College writes: “Most philosophers of science reject falsificationism.  Duhem and Quine showed, for example, that theories only make predictions when combined with a framework of background assumptions.  So when a prediction is false, the problem could be with the framework, not the theory itself.  Kuhn showed that all theories, even the best ones, are inconsistent with some of the data.  Hempel showed that many scientific statements aren’t falsifiable.  Bayesians (who are now the dominant group) reject Popper’s fundamental claim that theories are never probably true.  Popper is much more popular among scientists than among philosophers of science.
Also, while there is disagreement among Bayesians and others, present views don’t allow such a sharp separation between science and religion.  Kuhn for example says that the present “paradigm” isn’t open to rational scrutiny, but shielded from criticism, and paradigm shifts are only partially rational.  Bayesians says that science depends on subjective judgements of plausibility in addition to logic and data, etc.”
See also Roy Clouser, The Myth of Religious Neutrality; An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories (rev. ed.; University of Notre Dame Press, 2005).

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 12.54.22 PMProfessor David J. Helfand, President and Vice-Chancellor, Quest University Canada; President, American Astronomical Society, Professor of Astronomy, Columbia University (on leave). He has spent 35 years as Professor of Astronomy at Columbia University, where he served as Department Chair and Co-Director of the Astrophysics Laboratory for more than half that time. He is the author of nearly 200 scientific publications on many areas of modern astrophysics including radio, optical and X-ray observations of celestial sources from nearby stars to the most distant quasars. He is engaged in a research project designed to provide a complete picture of the birth and death of stars in the Milky Way.

But most of all, David is an inspirational teacher, who received the 2001 Columbia Presidential Teaching Award and the 2002 Great Teacher Award from the Society of Columbia Graduates. He has a deep concern about the state of the modern research university which he sees as dysfunctional, in part because of the impossibly large number of functions which the research university is expected to fulfill in 21st. century North America and in part because of the low priority given to teaching excellence. Because of these concerns, he has taken the radical step of pioneering a university dedicated to innovative teaching. David believes that he is a better cook than he is an astronomer and, ambiguously, colleagues who have sampled his gastronomic delights agree. We welcome him as a major public intellectual and a personal friend of many of us.


Dennis Danielson professor of English at the University of British Columbia, is a literary and intellectual historian who has made contributions to Milton studies and to the early modern history of cosmology, examining scientific developments in their historical, philosophical, and literary contexts. His books include Milton’s Good God: A Study in Literary Theodicy (1982) and the Cambridge Companion to Milton (1989, 1999), both published by Cambridge University Press. His subsequent work in the history of astronomy, especially The Book of the Cosmos: Imagining the Universe from Heraclitus to Hawking and The First Copernican: Georg Joachim Rheticus and the Rise of the Copernican Revolution, has engaged both humanities scholars and scientists in dialogue about the historical and cultural as well as cosmological meaning of Copernicus’s legacy. Danielson was the 2011 recipient of the Konrad Adenauer Research Prize from Germany’s Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. His new book Paradise Lost and the Cosmological Revolution is in press and scheduled for publication by Cambridge University Press in 2014.

Grad Students may also check for relevant information and activities.

pdf of Dialogue Between David Helfand and Alister McGrath on the New Atheists SKM_C554e14091911460

Paper on Scientism by Dr. Gordon Carkner SCIENTISM:Apologeetics Canada

Canadian Science & Christian Affiliation (CSCA) ( local contact: Dr. Arnold Sikkema TWU Physics)

Scholarly Responses to New Atheism 
Iain Provan, Seriously Dangerous Religion: what the Old Testament really says and why it matters. (Baylor 2014)
Hart, David Bentley, The Experience of God: being, consciousness and bliss. Yale, 2013

Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: science, religion and naturalism.

Thomas Nagel, Mind & Cosmos. (questions whether reductionistic explanations are adequate)

Alister McGrath, A Fine-Tuned Universe: the search for God in science and theology. (2009 Gifford Lectures)

——————–, The Dawkins Delusion

David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: the Christian Revolution and its fashionable enemies.

John C. Lennox, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? Lion.

——————, Gunning for God: why the new atheists are missing the target.

John Lennox debates Richard Dawkins at Oxford’s Museum of Natural History:

Craig & Meister (eds.), God is Great; God is Good: why believing in God is reasonable and responsible:

Peter Hitchens, Rage Against God: how atheism led me to faith.

Denis Alexander, Evolution or Creation?

Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making sense of the Old Testament God.

Further Reading on Science & Religion

Polkinghorne, Sir John, One World: The Interaction of Science & Theology. Princeton. (physicist/theologian—leading light on Science & Religion)

Polkinghorne, Sir John, Exploring Reality: The Intertwining of ScienceReligion, Science and Providence.

McGrath, Alister. A Fine-Tuned Universe: the quest for God in Science and Theology. (Gifford Lectures)

Hutchinson, Ian. Monopolizing Knowledge.

Craig & Meister (eds.). God is Great; God is Good.

Gingerich, Owen, God’s Universe.

Collins, Francis, The Language of God. Free Press.

Pascal, Blaise.  Pensees.  Trans. A. J. Krailsheimer.  Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1966.

Capell & Cook eds., Not Just Science: Questions Where Christian Faith and Natural Science Intersect. Zondervan

Jaki, Stanley, The Road to Science and the Ways to God. Chicago (Gifford Lectures on history of science)

Russell, Colin, Crosscurrents: Interactions Between Science & Faith. Eerdmans

Danielson, Dennis (ed.), The Book of the Cosmos. Perceus.

Plantinga, Alvin, Where the Conflict Really Lies: science, religion and naturalism. (a critique of the new atheist and the hegemony of Philosophical Naturalism)

Lewis, C.S., Miracles. Macmillan (a classic)

Waltke, Bruce, “Gift of the Cosmos” (article on Genesis 1:1-2:4) Chapter 8 in   An Old Testament Theology, Zondervan, 2007.

Alexander, Denis, Rebuilding the Matrix: Science & Faith in the 21st Century. Zondervan (director of Faraday Institute in Cambridge, UK)

Burke, ed., Creation & Evolution: 7 Prominent Christians Debate. IVP UK.

Livingstone, D. N., Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders: The Encounter BetweenEvangelical Theology and Evolutionary Thought.

Owens, V.S., Godspy: Faith, Perception, and the New Physics.

Gingerich, Owen, “Let There Be Light” article on natural theology by America’s top Christian physicist at Harvard’s Smithsonian Institute.

Theology of Creation

Alexander, Denis, Evolution or Creation?: Must we Choose?

Capon, R. F.,  “The Third Peacock” in The Romance of the Word. Eerdmans

Gunton, C., The Triune Creator: a historical and systematic study. Eerdmans (English theologian)

Walsh & Middleton, The Transforming Vision. IVP (on Christian worldview)

Bouma-Prediger, S., For the Beauty of the Earth: a Christian vision of creation care. Baker Academic, 2010.

Nagel, Thomas, Mind and Cosmos.

Limits of Science

Medawar, P., The Limits of Science.

Schumacher, E.F. A Guide for the Perplexed. Abacus. (brilliant challenge to ontological reductionism)

Carkner, Gordon, Unpublished paper: “Scientism and the Search for an Integrated Reality” (several posts from this on the Blog)

McGrath, A. & J., The Dawkins Delusion? IVP 2007.

Lennox, John. God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? Lion Books, 2011.

Jeeves & Berry,  Science, Life, and Christian Belief. Apollos Books.

Ward, Keith, Pascal’s Fire:  Scientific Faith and Religious Understanding.

Harper, Charles Jr. ed., Spiritual Information: 100 Perspectives on Science and Religion. Templeton Foundation Press.

Spencer, N. & White, R. Christianity, Climate Change, and Sustainable Living.  SPCK, 2007.

See also DVD Series called Test of Faith from Faraday Institute in Cambridge, UK

Iain Provan Examines Two Mythologies, March 12, 2014 @ 4 pm, Woodward 6

A Critical Examination of Two Myths that Drive Culture: the Axial Age and Dark Green Religion

Dr. Iain Provan, Marshall Sheppard Professor of Biblical Studies, Regent College

Wednesday, March 12 @ 4:00 p.m.        Woodward (IRC) Room 6, UBC near Gate One


The contemporary world has been shaped in part by two important and potent myths.  Karl Jaspers’ construct of the “axial age” envisions the common past (800–200 BC), the time when Western society was born and world religions spontaneously and independently appeared out of a seemingly shared value set. Conversely, the myth of the “dark green golden age” as narrated by David Suzuki and others asserts that the axial age, and the otherworldliness that accompanied the emergence of organized religion, ripped society from a previously deep communion with nature. Both myths contend that to maintain balance we must return to the idealized past. In this lecture, Iain Provan will engage critically with both myths, explaining why we should not embrace them and why it matters if we do.


With his doctorate from Cambridge University, Dr. Iain Provan has been the Marshall Sheppard Professor of Biblical Studies at Regent College since 1997. He was born and educated in the UK and retains strong family, academic, and church connections with his homeland. He received his MA at Glasgow University in Mediaeval History and Archaeology, his BA from London Bible College in Theology, and his PhD from Cambridge, where his thesis focused on the books of Kings, and was subsequently published as Hezekiah and the Books of Kings. Iain Provan’s academic teaching career took him to King’s College London, the University of Wales, and the University of Edinburgh, where he was a senior lecturer in Hebrew and Old Testament Studies. He has written numerous essays and articles, and several books including commentaries on Lamentations, 1 and 2 Kings, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs, and co-authored with Phil Long and Tremper Longman A Biblical History of Israel. Most recently he released Convenient Myths: The Axial Age, Dark Green Religion, and the World that Never Was., the concern of this talk. Iain is an ordained minister of the Church of Scotland; a Life Member of Clare Hall, Cambridge; and the recipient of an Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship. He and his wife, Lynette, have four children and he holds full credentials as a soccer coach in BC.

On My Book Convenient Myths: ~Iain Provan

Most people, I believe, do not comprehend the way in which each of us is inevitably caught up in what theologian Ched Myers has called the “war of myths” – a battle of overarching stories that claim to explain life (what it’s about, where it’s going, and what its purpose is).  For Myers, our lives are war-zones.  Very different “big stories” about the world vie for influence over our hearts and minds.  But most people simply take the world as they find it and get on with their lives without reflecting too much about this battle.  They simply assume that what is true about reality and about right and wrong is obvious.  However, the fact of the matter is that every one of us lives in a world profoundly shaped by other people’s ideas.  Everyone lives inside an (inevitably disputable) story, recounted to them in the first instance by other people. Human beings are always “storied” in this way—regardless of whether they reflect upon this fact—just as they are always “political,” regardless of whether they vote.  The only question that faces us is this: are we going to make any effort to ensure that we inhabit a true and a good story, rather than a false and possibly dangerous one?

 I extend an invitation to engage in the serious critical appraisal of two influential myths of our time. Both myths are stories about the past told in pursuit of present and future agendas.  The first I have labeled the myth of the axial age. The idea of an axial age was first introduced to the world by the German existentialist philosopher Karl Jaspers in the period just after the Second World War. Modern human beings stand, he proposed, on the far side of this crucial turning point in history (800–200 BC), which produced the basic categories within which we modern human beings still carry on our thinking.  The cultures that experienced this new beginning constantly return to it in order to renew themselves. As they do so, they recognize what they hold in common, beyond all particular differences of faith. It is to this common past that we ourselves must now return, as we strive to make the unity of humankind concrete in the present. We must return to this axial age—the wellspring from which all faith once emerged, behind and beneath all specific religious and philosophical worldviews and their secularized, political forms. And, having gone back, we must move forward to build a new world order. We must birth a new axial age—an age of world peace.  This myth has in turn been popularized by many others, including the religious studies expert John Hick and the popular religious historian Karen Armstrong.  Even those who have never heard the terminology may be familiar with the myth itself as expressed in the kind of statements that often appear in Karen Armstrong’s books (e.g., the ways in which all religions “are at the core really just the same, focusing on compassion”).

The second myth, I have labeled the myth of the dark green golden age. The mythmakers in this case also believe in something like an axial age, but they do not look back to it for inspiration, because they regard it as an age, not of enlightenment, but of repression. Axial age civilizations destroyed prior societies based around natural and cosmological cycles. They broke the human connection with the earth. They also broke down human community, as individual religious identity developed.  Axial age (world) religions, since they were not connected with particular places, inevitably reduced the importance of place, unless that “place” was in a spiritual afterlife. Much of what is wrong with contemporary human life results from this embrace of civilization. To recover ourselves, we must now get back behind the axial age, in order to recover a more authentic way of being. We must revisit the Paleolithic era, and reconnect with our hunter-gatherer ancestors in the state of nature. That is where we will actually find the spirituality of empathy and compassion that we need, to save both ourselves and the planet.  How can we access this Old Stone Age, which is long gone, and of which there is so little meaningful trace even in the archaeological record?  We can access it by way of surviving preaxial tribal peoples not yet entirely assimilated into axial reality – indigenous peoples of the modern period, who still tell truer stories about the world than we modern people do. It is by listening to their wisdom that we can save ourselves and the planet; for even into modern times, they have lived more world-affirming, equitable and peaceable lives than axial peoples, informed by a much more authentic, organic spirituality than is available in the world-denigrating world religions.  In particular, even into modern times, these ancient peoples, living in harmony with nature, have displayed the ecological knowledge without which we cannot now manage.  So we must listen carefully to them, reconnect with our deepest past by doing so, and in this way equip ourselves to move ahead into a sustainable future.  Among the many accessible books that promote this myth are those written by ecologist David Suzuki and anarcho-primitivists John Zerzan and Derrick Jensen.

Both these stories have been told and retold in recent times by well-motivated people who want to make the world a better place. Both have proved to be remarkably influential, whether at sophisticated levels of politics and government, or at the more popular level. The popular appetite for the myths is well-illustrated in the difficulty I faced, when writing my book, in even getting access to the writings of people like Karen Armstrong and Derrick Jensen for any extended period of time, because of the demand for them in our local (including university) libraries. Certainly here in the Pacific Northwest, many people are drawn to these myths, and in recognition of the demand their proponents’ books are well-represented in our bookstores.

For my own part, I have enormous sympathy for the agendas of the writers in both camps. Nonetheless, I believe each of the stories is patently false – and that is what I try to argue in my book.  But I also explore why it is that the two stories are so widely believed by so many, even though they are evidently untrue, and, most importantly, I ask whether this matters.  I think it does; I think false stories are dangerous. The flourishing of our planet, and indeed of its human inhabitants, will not in the end be advanced by such.

Jeffrey Greenman

Dr. Jeffrey Greenman on Assisted Suicide

   Dying with Dignity? Negotiating the Moral Debate on Assisted Suicide

Wednesday, February 5 @ 4:00 p.m., Wodward (IRC), Room 6

Dr. Jeffrey Greenman, PhD Ethics University of Virginia,

Jeff Greenman

Dean of Faculty Regent College


A recent video by Dr. Donald Low, a Canadian physician who became famous during the 2003 SARS outbreak in Toronto, has sparked fresh moral and political debate about assisted suicide. In the video, which was made just eight days before he died of brain cancer, Low expressed his worries about how he would die. He asked for support for “dying with dignity” through assisted suicide, but because such measures are illegal in Canada, he was unable to die as he had wished. Addressing those who oppose assisted suicide, Low said, “I wish they could live in my body for 24 hours… Why make people suffer for no reason, when there is an alternative?” In this lecture, Dr. Greenman will explore the most important reasons given for and against assisted suicide, looking at the current debates from the standpoint of historic Christian convictions about suffering, death, and human dignity.  Greenman will offer a multi-faceted rationale for upholding the longstanding Christian opposition to assisted suicide, and provide reasons why Canadian public policy should resist calls for change on this issue.

Statement by Dr Donald Low on YouTube


Jeffrey P. Greenman (Ph.D. in religious ethics, University of Virginia) is Academic Dean and Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics at Regent College. He is the author of two books including Understanding Jacques Ellul, editor of seven volumes, and has written dozens of articles and book chapters on theology, ethics, education, and leadership. Biola Lecture/Discussion on Assisted Suicide

Read: Paul Chamberlain, Final Wishes: a cautionary tale on death, dignity and physician assisted suicide. IVP, 2000.

Edward J. Larson & Darrell Amundsen, A Different Death: euthanasia and the Christian tradition. IVP, 1998.

Response by Dr. Bert Cameron, former head of Nephrology at UBC,

To: GFCF ‘Dying with Dignity’ Lecture-Discussion by Dr. Jeffrey Greenman, Regent College


Rejoinder: “I was asked to give this response by the GFCF committee. I realize that it is not a fully considered document and that I would appreciate input particularly from those experienced in current palliative care.” ~Bert

I thought Jeff did a good job. Using the video clip as a beginning focused attention well and gave him the opportunity to make a number of significant points. First, ethical problems are always difficult because they involve a conflict of principles such as personal autonomy vs. sanctity of life. Second, the use of terms such as “maturity” and “death with dignity” are slogans that  need better definition since we all want to be mature and respect the dignity of the human person.

I also thought that it was good to review the current legal grounding of Canadian laws (sanctity of life) and to point out the Hippocratic tradition and to give the Judeo –Christian basis for respect for human life, particularly the statement to Noah linking the prohibition to human murder with the image of God.

I thought the discussion was interesting, particularly the input from two doctors deeply concerned about euthanasia. They have been very vocal in the pro-life and euthanasia prevention movements. Clearly experience has shown them that when discussing this issue in society at large, the only argument likely to gain purchase is that of protection of the vulnerable in society.  For this reason, much of their attention is focused on the “bad outcomes” in jurisdictions where euthanasia is practiced in the US and Europe. This moves the discussion away from principles to anecdotes and social research.

However, I think it is important clarify our interpretation of the principles so that we are honest about them. Let me explain.

It is true that the Old Testament lays the foundation that man is in the image of God and therefore human life is to be respected. Murder is condemned. However, taking life is not condemned since death was the punishment for murder and a number of other  misdemeanors.  Therefore, the active taking of life was not prohibited in Jewish society. The death penalty was recommended for thirty or more circumstances, which included a variety of sexual, familial, religious and legal misdeeds, some of which would be considered quite trivial today. In fact, our society seems to have a higher view of the sanctity of life than is evidenced in the Old Testament such as banning the death penalty.

Therefore, though as a Christian, I believe in the respect for life based on being made in the image of God, I find it difficult to suggest that hastening the death of suffering person who will die shortly can be equated with murder from the Old Testament perspective.

Other than the general principle of respect for human life, I find little in the Old or New Testament that bears significantly on the issue of palliation as medicine is practiced today. The argument that God determines our death is applicable in a general way but not specifically in a society that prolongs life by artificial means.

The point about the Hippocratic Oath and Tradition also has to be taken with caution. The Hippocratic Oath was a pagan oath that applied to a small group of doctors in ancient Greece. They were, in essence, setting standards for themselves in order to attract patients. Since they had access to killing agents, it was a promise not to use them. Again, it has very little to do with the current discussion. The Oath was, however, taken up by the Medieval Church and “sanctified” and has been used largely because it was in line with Christian thinking and the prohibition against murder.

As far as Canadian law is concerned, it is of course under continual change. It is probable that some sort of euthanasia will be legalized in Canada because the law has increasingly been moving to support the principle of consent and autonomy over other considerations. For example, the law against treating Jehovah’s Witnesses with blood transfusions against consent even though lack of treatment will lead to death.

Further, there are a number of practical issues involved in this complex discussion. There is a wide range of individual and family response to dying. At the end of life, some want to die, some want to live at all costs. Families are also very diverse on this issue. What constitutes medical care or negligence? Is it mandatory to put an IV into an unconscious dying person? What limits are permissible to ease suffering? Every individual case is different and often not predictable. In my experience, after each case the questions often remain as to whether the best was done.

So where does this bring me?

First, I believe that modern medicine and care is rooted in the Christian tradition, beginning with the healing ministry of Christ. It is based on Jesus care for the physical ailments of humans. Subsequently Christians cared for the sick, built hospitals and universities that cared as well as producing medical advances.

Second, death is inevitable and in some cases, overzealous attempts to preserve human life should be avoided. Having said that, this is very much a judgment issue.  I have been forced, under legal threat, to keep brain dead people physically alive.

Third, within a palliative care context, wherever that is taking place, the health care team needs to be given latitude to deal with each case and family in a very individual and caring way. If this were understood and practiced, I think many situations like Dr. Lowe’s could be avoided.

Fourth, I like the phrase that Eric Stephenson mentioned to me; instead of using the term “Do Not Resuscitate” we should say “Allow Natural Death”.

Fifth, the Christian approach to the euthanasia debate should definitely focus on protection of the vulnerable. In our socialized society this can be a complex issue since we all pay for the extension of life through highly technological means.

Sixth, the question of having doctors responsible for euthanasia outside of the palliative care context is a very vexed question. I think medical societies should stand against it because it will reduce trust in physicians.

~Dr. Bert Cameron, former Head of Nephrology, UBC (professor emeritus)

Dennis Danielson Probes the Enigma of Galileo, Nov. 13 @ 4 pm UBC

The Enigma of Galileo: 

Rethinking a Pivotal Episode in the History and Mythology of Science

Dr. Dennis Danielson,  Department of English, UBC

Wednesday, November 13, 2013 @ 4:00 p.m.  Woodward (IRC) Room 1

Recent Publication by Danielson on History of Astronomy in January 2014 Issue of Scientific American:


The better part of a century passed before more than a handful of serious scientists accepted Copernicus’s cosmology (1543) proclaiming that the Earth rotates on its axis, while also orbiting the Sun. Galileo’s important telescopic discoveries in 1609 and 1610 form the most famous early chapter in the story of the wider acceptance of heliocentrism. But in the process, something went terribly wrong. Two decades later Galileo was put on trial by the Roman Inquisition—a move damaging not only to Galileo and free scientific inquiry, but also to the reputation of the church for centuries thereafter. In this lecture, Dr. Danielson will revisit the first great telescopic astronomer and show how he “cheated” in his presentation of “the two great world systems.” He will also show how mis-readings of the Galileo episode continue to skew our understanding of the history of science. In fact, right through the seventeenth century, many of those resistant to heliocentrism founded their objections scientifically—not merely on dogmatic or traditionalist grounds. Of course, none of this excuses the persecution of Galileo by church authorities. Danielson contends that by zooming in critically on Galileo’s own writings we can gain a better grasp both of his faults and of his genuinely astonishing scientific contributions. The talk should engage anyone interested in the literature and history of science and/or cultural and intellectual history.


Dennis Danielson, professor of English at the University of British Columbia, is a literary and intellectual historian who has made contributions to Milton studies and to the early modern history of cosmology, examining scientific developments in their historical, philosophical, and literary contexts. His books include Milton’s Good God: A Study in Literary Theodicy (1982) and the Cambridge Companion to Milton (1989, 1999), both published by Cambridge University Press. His subsequent work in the history of astronomy, especially The Book of the Cosmos: Imagining the Universe from Heraclitus to Hawking and The First Copernican: Georg Joachim Rheticus and the Rise of the Copernican Revolution, has engaged both humanities scholars and scientists in dialogue about the historical and cultural as well as cosmological meaning of Copernicus’s legacy. Danielson was the 2011 recipient of the Konrad Adenauer Research Prize from Germany’s Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. His new book Paradise Lost and the Cosmological Revolution is in press and scheduled for publication by Cambridge University Press in 2014.

Commentary from the Lecture: Danielson seems to be saying that Galileo in his argument with the authorities of the time (religious and scientific) was actually not presenting accurately the two main contending views of the universe: Tycho Brahe’s (Tychonic) vs. Copernican. He was instead choosing the ‘straw man’ view of Ptolemy which had already been discredited many years before. There were actually three systems to speak about if he were properly to include Ptolemy’s view. The idea that he faked the alternatives to win the debate is an astounding insight.

There was one other important point: it takes centuries to actually change the scientific mind on such an important issue as its cosmic picture. Scientific objections to the Copernican view were not fully until the 19th century.” claimed Danielson.

Dr. Danielson responds to the above commentary:

“I wouldn’t characterize Galileo’s Dialogo (1632) specifically as an
“argument with the authorities of the time (religious and scientific).”
Well, maybe with the scientific authorities (the Aristotelians). But the
religious authorities DID — I think contrary to Galileo’s intentions –
interpret the Dialogo as an argument with themselves, and hence his
trial by the Inquisition a year later.

My argument is that Galileo’s tactic in the Dialogo — of treating the
Ptolemaic and Copernican as the “two great” systems — made victory for
the Copernican system a cheap victory, because almost no serious
scientist held to the Ptolemaic cosmos any more. It was Tycho’s that was
the main contender, the main alternative to that of Copernicus, solving
as it did the appearances of Venus and NOT making claims about the size
of the starry sphere that would entail stars’ being as large in diameter
as the entire annual orbit of the Earth (according to the Copernican
system). Your term “faking the alternatives” is quite fitting. I have no
idea whether I’m the first to notice this; I suspect not. But the most
novel aspect of the presentation is the emphasis on star size. Neither
is this original with me. But the guy who has really nailed this
problem, Christopher Graney, has collaborated with me to produce a
semi-popular article called “The Case Against Copernicus” that will
appear in the January issue of Scientific American.”

See also Owen Gingerich’s writing on the Galileo Affair

Cover of "The Book of the Cosmos"

Cover of The Book of the Cosmos

Cover of "The First Copernican: Georg Joa...

Cover via Amazon

Alvin Plantinga @ UBC October 2, 2013

Dr. Alvin Plantinga

former John O’Brien Professor of Philosophy, Notre Dame University;

currently Jellema Chair in Philosophy, Calvin College.

Topic:  Science & Religion: Where the Conflict Really Lies

 Wednesday, October 2, 2013 @ 4:00 p.m.     Scarfe Building Room 100, UBC

Dr Alvin Plantinga


Taking Christian belief as C.S. Lewis’s ‘Mere Christianity’, I’ll argue that there is no real conflict between science and Christian belief. I’ll go on to argue that there is a real conflict between science and naturalism, the thought that there is no such person as God or anything like God.  So if we take naturalism to be a religion or a quasi-religion, then there is indeed a science-religion conflict; it’s not between Christianity and science, however, but between naturalism and science.

Like any Christian (and indeed any theist), I believe that the world has been created by God, and hence “intelligently designed”. As far as I can see, God certainly could have used Darwinian processes to create the living world and direct it as he wanted to go; hence evolution as such does not imply that there is no direction in the history of life. What does have that implication is not evolutionary theory itself, but unguided evolution, the idea that neither God nor any other person has taken a hand in guiding, directing or orchestrating the course of evolution. But the scientific theory of evolution, sensibly enough, says nothing one way or the other about divine guidance. It doesn’t say that evolution is divinely guided; it also doesn’t say that it isn’t. Like almost any theist, I reject unguided evolution; but the contemporary scientific theory of evolution just as such—apart from philosophical or theological add-ons—doesn’t say that evolution is unguided. Like science in general, it makes no pronouncements on the existence or activity of God.


Dr. Plantinga is professor emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, was described by Time magazine in 1980 as “America’s leading orthodox Protestant philosopher of God.”  He is the author of numerous articles and several books, including God and Other Minds: the Rational Justification of Religious Belief (Cornell 1967), God, Freedom and Evil (Eerdmans 1974), Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford 2000) and Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (Oxford 2012 from which he draws this lecture).  Among many honors, Plantinga is the past president of the American Philosophical Association, Central Division, and the Society of Christian Philosophers, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. With a PhD in Philosophy from Yale University, Alvin Plantinga is widely known for his work in philosophy of religion, epistemology, metaphysics and Christian apologetics. He delivered the Gifford Lectures three times, was a Guggenheim Fellow, 1971–1972. In 2012, the University of Pittsburgh’s Philosophy Department, History and Philosophy of Science Department, and the Center for the History and Philosophy of Science awarded him the Rescher Prize.

Handout for the Lecture  Science and Religion- where conflict handout

 Sample of Plantinga’s talk and good humour Where the Conflict Really Lies @ Biola University.

See Thomas Nagel’s book which has fuelled much current debate: Mind and Cosmos: why naturalistic neo-Darwinism is almost certainly wrong.

Also see the detailed scholarly work on the subject of natural theology by Alister McGrath called A Fine-Tuned Universe. and the brilliant argument critiquing naturalism in David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God: being, consciousness, bliss (Yale, 2013)

John H. Walton

John H. WaltonRecovering the Lost World of Genesis One in the Ancient Near East

Dr. John H.Walton

Professor of Old Testament, Wheaton College, Chicago


Wednesday, March 20 at 4:00 pm,

Woodward (IRC) Room 5 (UBC)



This lecture will reveal fresh, unexpected insights into the important and complex issue of interpretation of ancient biblical text. Dr. Walton has focused his research on the literature and cultures of the ancient Near East and the Hebrew Scriptures (especially Genesis 1-3), drawing important clues from ancient cosmology. His rigorous work offers a close reading of the creation narrative within its cultural and historical context. This reading raises important questions about appropriate biblical insights for modern science regarding the natural world (cosmology, biology, human origins).  It also explores a unique and fruitful philosophical framework for thinking about the cosmos and our place in it. Are today’s scientific conclusions regarding old earth, common descent, and origins of the human race actually in conflict with the Hebrew Bible? Our speaker will explain his scholarly and critical perspective on the matter.


Dr. Walton received his PhD in 1981 from Hebrew and Cognate Studies, from the Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati, Ohio. He has focused his attention on studies comparing the culture and literature of the Bible and the literature of the ancient Near East. He is presently a Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, a premier educational institution in Chicago. He authored the text The Lost World of Genesis One (IVP, 2009). Dr. Walton has authored many articles and books, including The Lost World of Genesis OneGenesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology, and Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament. His book on Genesis 2–3, The Lost World of Adam and Eve, is forthcoming.

Similar Presentation on YouTube:

Similar Dialogue between an OT professor Tremper Longman III and biologist Jeff Schloss in a Veritas Forum (very measured and thoughtful)

Further Lectures

Other GFCF Lectures Walton Home Page

You might also read: Bruce Waltke, “Gift of the Cosmos” (article on Genesis 1:1-2:4) Chapter 8 in   An Old Testament Theology, Zondervan, 2007.; John Lennox, God’s Undertaker: Has science buried God?; and Colin Russell, Crosscurrents: Interactions Between Science & Faith. Eerdmans

Co-sponsored GFCF @ UBC with Canadian Scientific & Christian Affiliation, and Vancouver Area Science & Religion Forum.


Hebrew Text Genesis One

Endorsements of Dr. Walton’s Research:

John Walton’s thoughtful analysis of Genesis 1 is the most inspiring I have encountered. When I helped organize a major workshop on ‘Becoming Human,’ we made sure to choose a date when he could participate.

Owen Gingerich, author God’s Universe; Professor Emeritus, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

This book presents a profoundly important new analysis of the meaning of Genesis. Digging deeply into the original Hebrew language and the culture of the people of Israel in Old Testament times, respected scholar John Walton argues convincingly that Genesis was intended to describe the creation of the functions of the cosmos, not its material nature. In the process, he elevates Scripture to a new level of respectful understanding, and eliminates any conflict between scientific and scriptural descriptions of origins.

Francis S. Collins, head of the Human Genome Project and author of The Language of God

John Walton’s expertise in the Ancient Near Eastern sources enables him to shed a flood of new and unexpected light on the deeper meaning of Genesis 1. The Creator, Genesis is saying, designed heaven and earth as a great temple with the intention of coming to live in it himself—and the sabbath isn’t just a nice break after the work is done, but the moment when he takes up residence in the world he has just made. The implications of this resonate right through the rest of the Bible. This is not just a book to invite ‘creationists’ to think differently; it is a book to help all Bible students read the whole of Scripture with fresh eyes.

N. T. Wright, Professor of New Testament, University of St. Andrews