Davidson Lectures

FPC OR from the Turnpike

The annual Jackson B. Davidson Memorial Lecture on Science and Religion honors the late Jack Davidson, a church elder and award-winning researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He was intensely interested in the relationships between science and religion, between faith and reason. He delivered sermons on these relationships.

The speakers in this lecture series explore these relationships and the ways that reason and science help us better understand and appreciate God’s amazing creation, including humankind, so we can determine how best to protect, nurture, conserve, and sustain it.


Stanley Saunders
Speaker: Stanley Saunders, Associate Professor of New Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA

Date: Sunday, April 27, 2014, 7 p.m.

Title: "A Dwelling Place for God: Recovering the Forgotten Story of God, Humankind, Temple, and Creation."

Abstract: Modern, western Christians typically presume that Christian salvation entails escape from our bodies and this earth, so that we can dwell with God in an ethereal heavenly realm. The New Testament, on the other hand, much more clearly affirms a vision of God coming to dwell with us. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible tells the story not only of the redemption of humankind, but of the whole creation, "heaven and earth" as one, which ancient Jews and Christians alike regarded as the original "temple," the dwelling place of God. In this lecture we will explore the outlines of this largely forgotten biblical storyline, especially as it comes to expression in the New Testament, where Jesus' body is presented as "the temple," and in early Christian art, where images of the resurrected Jesus and renewed creation predominate.

Bio: Stanley Saunders is Associate Professor of New Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. As a native of Oregon, he grew up with a keen sense of the wonders of nature. Stan holds a PhD in New Testament studies from Princeton Theological Seminary, and also studied at the Universities of Tuebingen and Heidelberg in Germany. Stan is married to Brenda Smith, who works in healthcare architecture. They have two children, Carson (18) and Aja (14).

Hear Dr Saunders' lecture

Get a PDF copy of the lecture text here

Get a PDF copy of the lecture PowerPoint presentation here


Speaker: Bill McKibben

Date: Sunday, August 18, 2013, 7 p.m., Oak Ridge High School

Title: "Keep the Faith and Do the Math"

Abstract: "Increased carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels to generate electricity and propel transportation vehicles are expected to cause catastrophic climate change if humanity allows the attainment of three numbers. The first number is two degrees Celsius. Since the Industrial Revolution began in the 18th century, the planet’s surface temperature has risen by almost one degree Celsius (0.8°C). Most countries agree that allowing the earth’s surface to warm by two degrees would usher in long-term, disastrous climate change. The second number is 565. Humankind can burn 565 more gigatons (billion tons) of fossil fuel by 2050 without causing the global surface temperature to rise two degrees. Fossil fuel companies and petro-states have proven reserves of 2,795 gigatons, the third number. Do the math by dividing 2,795 by 565, and you get 5. "Proven reserves" in the ground suggest business and national plans exist for combustion of five times the amount of carbon fuels considered safe for humankind."

Bio: Bill McKibben, "the planet’s best green journalist" according to Time magazine, is the author of 18 books on the environment. He is a founder of the grassroots climate campaign 350.org., which has coordinated 15,000 rallies in 190 countries since 2009 and sponsored a 21-city Do The Math tour in the fall of 2012. The Do The Math movie was shown in numerous cities and several times at our church in 2013. McKibben’s latest book is Eaarth (the extra "a" stands for "altered"), and his first book, The End of Nature, is regarded as the first book for a general audience on climate change. His other books include The Comforting Whirlwind: God, Job, and the Scale of Creation, Deep Economy: the Wealth of Communities and The Durable Future, and Fight Global Warming Now. McKibben was a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine and is a frequent contributor to The New York Times, The Atlantic, Mother Jones, and Rolling Stone magazines.


James Miller
Speaker: Dr. James B. Miller

Date: Sunday, April 21, 2013 at 7 p.m.

Title: "From Wow to Work: Science and Congregational Worship, Education and Mission"

Abstract: "Often when science is included in congregational life it is for its WOW value, impressing Christians with the wondrousness of God’s creation that has been discovered and displayed through scientific inquiry over the past 400 years. However, the awe inspiring character of the universe does not compel an affirmation of God as such nor much less an affirmation of God in Christ.

"Further, taking the discovered character of the creation seriously raises fundamental challenges for the meaning of the Christian faith today. So, too often Christians seek to avoid these challenges by allowing what we have learned about God’s creation to have little or no bearing on the life and work of Christian congregations.

"This lecture will acknowledge that we live in and are part of an ever amazing creation. However, it will focus on particular implications that a scientifically mediated understanding of God’s creation has for the worship, education and mission of Christian congregations."

Bio: Jim has a master of divinity degree from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Virginia and a Ph.D. degree in theology with an emphasis on theology and science from Marquette University in Milwaukee. Immediately following seminary, Jim worked for five years in the Department of Engineering Mechanics at North Carolina State University.

He served as an ecumenical campus minister at Michigan Technological University, the University of Pittsburgh, and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. As an adjunct faculty member at CMU, he taught courses on “Science and Christianity,” “Religions of the World’s People,” and was instrumental in establishing CMU’s religious studies minor.

From 1996-2007 he served as the Senior Program Associate for the Program of Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He is cochair of the Broader Social Impact Committee of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and general missioner for the Presbyterian Association on Science, Technology and the Christian Faith. He is the editor or co-editor of five books on religion and science, especially evolution and cosmology.

Summary of Dr. Miller's lecture here


Gene Ice
Speaker: Gene Ice

Date: Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 7 p.m.

Title: "Stories From the Intersection of Science and Religion"

Abstract: There is a common misconception that science is on the verge of explaining “everything”. This misconception is fueled by the truly remarkable success of science to predict future actions based on the systematic study of past behavior. However, a more comprehensive understanding of science finds that for every mystery solved, and for every new mechanism discovered and quantified, there are deeper and more profound mysteries uncovered. In the end, how one views the world becomes a matter of choice. Nevertheless, it is difficult to reconcile a scientific understanding of the world with a literal interpretation of the Bible. Is it then possible to be both a person of faith and a person with scientific integrity? This talk will explore these issues through stories and personal reflections.

Bio: Gene Ice is an elder of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., and director of the Materials Science and Technology Division of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He is known internationally for his work on x-ray and neutron optics and for his work on local structure property relationships in materials. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, a Fellow of ASM International, a Maslen Fellow of the Australian and New Zealand Crystallographic Society, and an Oak Ridge National Laboratory Corporate Fellow. He has two R&D100 Awards for inventions deemed among the 100 most important of their year, has two patents and numerous technical publications. He has given numerous invited technical presentations. He is not a religious scholar but is a curious Christian.

  Get Gene's PowerPoint presentation here;   please note this is a 51 megabyte file.


John Haught
Speaker: John Haught

Date: Sunday, April 10, at 7 p.m.

Title: "Biology, Theology and the Drama of Life"

Abstract: Is there room for a theological understanding of life after Darwin? It is the conviction of many scientists today, especially those familiar with biology, that the Darwinian understanding of evolution has made the idea of God completely superfluous, and hence unbelievable. The very features of life that previously led religious believers to attribute a sacramental meaning to the created world now seem to be fully explainable in Darwinian terms. Descent, diversity, design, death, suffering, sex, intelligence, morality, and religion—all of these now seem to admit of a purely natural explanation. Can we expect scientifically educated people to believe that these features of life may still have a religious meaning in a post-Darwinian world? This lecture offers a theological way toward understanding Darwin’s religiously unsettling ideas based on the author’s recent book "Making Sense of Evolution: Darwin, God, and the Drama of Life" (WJK Press, 2010).

Bio: John F. Haught is Senior Fellow in Science and Religion at Woodstock Theological Center, Georgetown University. He was formerly Professor in the Department of Theology at Georgetown University (1970-2005) and Chair (1990-95). Haught received Masters and Ph.D. degrees from Catholic University. Haught’s area of specialization is systematic theology, with a particular interest in issues pertaining to science, cosmology, evolution, ecology, and religion. Recent books authored by Haught are Making Sense of Evolution: Darwin, God and the Drama of Life (2010); God and the New Atheism: A Critical Response to Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens (2008); Christianity and Science: Toward a Theology of Nature (2007); and Is Nature Enough? Meaning and Truth in the Age of Science (2006). Haught has also authored numerous articles and reviews. He lectures internationally on many issues related to science and religion. In 2002 he was the winner of the Owen Garrigan Award in Science and Religion, in 2004 the Sophia Award for Theological Excellence, and in 2008 a “Friend of Darwin Award” from the National Center for Science Education. He testified for the plaintiffs in the Harrisburg, PA “Intelligent Design trial” (Kitzmiller et al. vs. Dover Board of Education). In recognition of his work on theology and science Haught was awarded the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa by the University of Louvain (Belgium) in 2009. He and his wife Evelyn have two sons and live in Falls Church, Virginia.


Robert Bast Speaker: Robert Bast

Date: Sunday, April 25, at 7 p.m.

Title: "Printing, Propaganda, and the Protestant Reformation"

Abstract: This lecture demonstrates how the 15th-century technology of the printing press, invented by Johannes Gutenberg, was used in the first decades of the Lutheran Reformation in Germany. The purpose: to win the hearts and minds of lay people, even the illiterate, through the mass reproduction of pictures, the forerunners of political cartoons. In many respects, the Lutheran Reformation was the first mass media movement in European history, unthinkable without the skillful use of visual images to promote the ideals of Protestantism. The catalogue of visual images produced by both Protestant and Catholic printers helped shape the denominational ideas of both sides. But the campaign sparked a war of words and images so inflammatory that little ground was left for reasoned debate. The popular imagery of the Reformation era--both Protestant and Catholic--helps to explain not only how Protestantism managed to survive, but also why the age was so scarred by vicious wars over religion. There are obvious lessons for us there, as our own political discourse becomes increasingly bitter and heated.

Bio: Robert Bast earned a Ph.D. degree at the University of Arizona in Late Medieval and Reformation Studies and a master of divinity degree from Western Theological Seminary. He spent two years as a research scholar at the University of Tübingen in Germany. His many research interests include the politics of religion. He is a past recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and from the Fulbright Foundation. He is currently working on a monograph about Protestantism and eschatology, entitled Prophet and King of the World's Last Age: Augustin Bader's Reformation. He is the editor-in-chief of the prestigious international monograph series Studies in the History of Christian Thought (Brill Academic Publishers). Dr. Bast is currently Associate Professor of History at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. He was recently awarded UT's highest honor for teaching, the National Alumni Association Outstanding Teacher Award.


Dr. Loren Haarsma Speaker: Loren Haarsma

Position: Assistant Professor of Physics,
Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Date: Sunday, March 22, 2009

Title: "Darwin and Calvin: God's providence and human origins in light of evolution"

Abstract: The evidence for biological evolution convinces many Christians that it is a sound scientific theory; however, many are concerned about its implications for theology. How can God's providence and design be seen in a process characterized by mechanistic natural laws and random events? If the first chapters of Genesis aren't meant to teach us the "how" and the "when" of creation, what then do they teach us? If humans share common ancestry with animals, can we uniquely be created in the image of God? Does the concept of "original sin" still make sense if humans evolved? I believe there are good answers to these questions, but they are not trivial. I'll draw primarily but not exclusively from my own tradition, Calvinism, and discuss ways to preserve and enhance our understanding of essential Christian theology in light of evolution.

Bio: Dr. Haarsma received his PhD in Physics from Harvard in 1994. He did Postdoctoral research at Tufts and University of Pennsylvania in neuroscience before taking a teaching position at his undergraduate alma mater, Calvin College. Haarsma, whose specialty is biophysics, has published extensively in scientific journals on neuroscience and physics topics and written numerous book chapters and journal articles on science and faith topics. Recently, Loren and his wife, an astronomer and Calvin physics professor, wrote a book "Origins: A Reformed Look at Creation, Design, and Evolution" dealing with the controversies of science and theology and understanding how different Christians approach these issues.

View Dr. Haarsma's web page here


George W. Fisher Speaker: George W. Fisher

Position: As a professor emeritus, he now teaches in Johns Hopkins' Master of Liberal Arts program and at Baltimore's Ecumenical Institute of Theology established by St. Mary's Seminary & University.

Date: Sunday, April 20th, 2008

Title: "Ecology and Biblical Theology in Conversation: Fertile Connections Between Science and Religion"

Abstract: His talk demonstrated how the Israelites learned to maintain soil fertility in the Judean Hills, how this understanding shaped their conception of God and first-century Christian thought, and how well ancient ideas link to concepts of modern ecology and sustainability.

His web page in the Earth Sciences Dept here


Cathy Lynn Grossman Speaker: Cathy Lynn Grossman

Position: Religion and Ethics Reporter for USA Today

Date: April 22, 2007

Title: "Dialogues on Science and Religion: A Journalist’s View"

Abstract: In the summer of 2005, the John Templeton Foundation inaugurated a fellowship program for a small group of print, broadcast, and online journalists and editors. The fellows were provided the opportunity to examine the dynamics and creative interface between science and religion. Cathy Lynn Grossman was one of the original fellows in this program which consisted of an intense two-week seminar on science and religion, presented by scholars, scientists, and thinkers drawn from the United States and Europe. The seminar was held at Queens' College of the University of Cambridge in England. Each fellow then spent five weeks at home preparing an in-depth article and oral presentation on a topic of interest. The fellows returned to the University of Cambridge to deliver their oral presentations during the concluding one-week seminar.

In her lecture Grossman focused on the reactions of participants in this first class of Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellows to the intense study of issues of science and religion. She described how the program affected various journalists and how they translated their observations back to their readership. Grossman gave a personal perspective on how exposure to issues in religion and science has influenced her in communicating these issues to the public.


Antje Jackelen Speaker: Antje Jackelen

Position: Associate Professor of Systematic Theology/Religion and Science Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and Director of the Zygon Center for Religion and Science in Chicago

Title: "Cognitive Sciences Considered: Going Beyond the Popular Debates of Religion and Science"

Date: April 23, 2006

Abstract: Again and again, the debate over whether the theory of evolution, intelligent design and creationism should be taught in high-school biology classes has appeared to dominate the science-and-religion dialogue. But religion and science have many more exciting dimensions! In this lecture, she pointed to problems and opportunities that may emerge in the dialogue between religion and cognitive science, the study of mind and intelligence. The cognitive sciences may be used to promote the reductionist perception that religion and religious fervor are nothing but the firing of neurons in the brain. Such a concept will bolster criticisms of religion and cause insecurity among believers. We may see debates at least as fierce as those over various forms of creationism. Theologians will have to face the challenge of reconciling findings of cognitive science with traditional understandings of spirituality and religious faith. She showed and discussed some ways in which this reconciliation can be done. This is one important task of the continuing dialogue between science and religion.


Holmes Rolston III Speaker: Holmes Rolston

Position: University Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Colorado State University

Title: "Genes, Genesis and God"

Date: April 3, 2005

Abstract: The genesis of life on Earth is keyed to genes, located in organisms in evolutionary ecosystems. Molecular genetics is integrated into developing natural history, with spectacular levels of achievement and power, resulting in the myriad values of nature and culture. But there is remarkable scientific and philosophical debate about order and disorder, randomness and probability, the inevitable and the contingent, actualities and possibilities, as these result in increasing diversity and complexity over the evolutionary epic. The DNA in organisms is vital sets of information molecules, dramatically perpetuated and elaborated across species lines, stimulated by Earth's dynamic environments. This biological information originating over time displays a cumulative creativity that, although described by science, is nowhere an implication of biological theory. Such genesis invites an account of God as the Ground of Information.

In 2003 Rolston was awarded the Templeton Prize by H.R.H. Prince Philip in Buckingham Palace.

Douglas F. Ottatti Speaker: Douglas F. Ottati

Position: M. E. Pemberton Professor of Theology, Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. In 2007 Ottati became Craig Family Distinguished Professor of Religion and Ethics at Davidson College.

Title: "Which Way Is Up? And Other Challenges to Christian Theology in Light of Recent Scientific Findings and Ideas"

Date: April 25, 2004

Abstract: Ottati's lecture offered an interpretation of what Christian theology is and why we are bound to take into account at least some recent scientific findings as we formulate our visions of God, the world, and humanity. It also addressed some important recent challenges to Christian theology, such as the vast expansion in our modern picture of the cosmos, the idea that persons and communities are enmeshed in interdependent ecologies, and the close relationship between biology and personal identity.

About Jack Davidson

Jack Davidson The Davidson Lecture honors the late Jack Davidson, who was a First Presbyterian Church elder and member. He was a researcher in the Instrumentation and Controls Division of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He received an R&D 100 award from R&D magazine for developing one of the 100 top technologies of the year. His amusing and memorable children's sermons were based on gadgets he would bring to church. Jack was intensely interested in the interrelationship between religion and science and gave sermons on the topic.

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