Schedule and Abstracts for the March 10-11 meeting at Biola

Once again, we have a great lineup. The theme of the meeting is “Emergence, Spontaneous Pattern Formation, and the Origin of Life.” The location will be at the Calvary Chapel on the campus of Biola University in southern California. This meeting is co-sponsored by Biola University and the Southern California Science and Culture Network.

To register for the meeting go to this link. Attendance is free for students with ID, but registration is still required.

Sunday night, March 10

6:00 PM Registration desk open

6:30 PM David Snoke, University of Pittsburgh

“Emergence and Spontaneous Pattern Formation: What Can It Do, and What Can’t It Do.”

In this talk I will give a review of some of the broad concepts that get lumped together under the names of emergence and spontaneous pattern formation; this will include a general review of the fields of “soft condensed matter” physics and the physics of phase transitions and renormalization. Many fascinating effects have been demonstrated in past decades in these fields, and the question remains open whether they can be extended to explain the origin of life.

Bio: David Snoke is a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Pittsburgh and president of the Christian Scientific Society. He received a bachelor’s in physics from Cornell University and a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, after which he was an Alexander von Humboldt postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute in Stuttgart, Germany. After a brief stint in the aerospace industry, he joined the University of Pittsburgh in 1994; in 2006 he was named a Fellow of the American Physical Society for his theoretical and experimental work in optics and solid state physics. He has authored or coauthored five scientific books and over 140 journal publications.

7:20 PM Dr. Brian Miller, Discovery Institute

“Thermodynamics, the Origin of Life, and Information”

Many critiques of undirected scenarios for the origin of life focus on the technical difficulties for synthesizing the first cell’s building blocks, or on obstacles in later stages of the process. Dr. Miller will demonstrate that the core challenges to life’s origin are the steep thermodynamic barriers. In particular, research in the field of nonequilibrium thermodynamics has yielded what are termed fluctuation theorems. They demonstrate the enormous difficulty of chemicals on the early earth coalescing into a cell in all conditions, even in systems driven away from equilibrium by an external energy source. Dr. Miller will also explain how the first cell required from the beginning both molecular engines to process energy and information to direct that energy toward constructing and maintaining essential cellular structures and systems.

Bio: Brian Miller is Research Coordinator for the Center for Science and Culture at Discovery Institute. He holds a B.S. in physics with a minor in engineering from MIT and a Ph.D. in complex systems physics from Duke University. He is also a technical consultant for, a virtual incubator dedicated to bringing innovation to the marketplace. His research focus is on how principles of thermodynamics require preexistent information in the origin of life and on the interrelationship between engineering and biology.

8:10-8:30 PM Break

8:30 PM Jeff Zweerink, Reasons to Believe

“Is the Multiverse an Information-Generating Machine?”

The multiverse often gets used to solve all sorts of difficult problems in the sciences, so it should not be surprising that some invoke its existence to account for the information contained in living systems. This talk will briefly describe some specific scientific discoveries that identify the information content in living systems and address whether the multiverse provides an adequate explanation. Even if the multiverse exists, it appears that the only way to retain important ideas (identity, free-will, the utility of the scientific method, etc.) requires an intelligent agent that transcends the multiverse.

Bio: Astrophysicist Jeff Zweerink, author of Is There Life Out There?,is a senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), an organization dedicated to demonstrating the compatibility of science and Christianity. He also participates in dark matter research at UCLA. He earned a B.S. in physics and a Ph.D. in astrophysics with a focus on gamma rays from Iowa State University.

Monday afternoon, March 11

1:30 PM Registration desk open

2:00 PM Arnold Sikkema, Trinity Western University

“Emergence in Physics and Biophysics”

This talk will begin with a primer on emergence, particularly highlighting the categories of weak vs.strong and diachronic vs.synchronic. Examples of emergence will be drawn from both physics and biophysics, examining connections with phase transitions, self-organization, and pattern formation, particularly exploring the powerful concepts of universality and robustness. The multi-aspectual character of the world will be related from a Reformational philosophical perspective which respects the natures of and connections between the disciplines of physics and biology. Its understanding of “laws of nature,” in which the physical and the biotic have their distinct particular patterns of regularity (idionomy), describes a physical realm brimming forth with potential for (anticipating) the biotic. As a concrete example, I will suggest how the indeterminacy of quantum physics may be needed for biological processes such as mutation and agency.

Bio: Arnold Sikkema is professor of physics at Trinity Western University and executive director of the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation. After his BSc in physics & mathematics from the University of Waterloo, a PhD in superconductivity and magnetism from the University of British Columbia, and postdoctoral research at the University of Florida, he is in his 22nd year in Christian higher education, the first eight of which were at Dordt College. His main research interests are in science and Christian faith, particularly exploring biophysics from a Reformational philosophical perspective.

2:50 PM Jason Rampelt, Greystone Theological Institute

“Determinism in the Brain: A Look at Donald MacKay (1922–1987)”

Donald M. MacKay had a successful career of research in the Department of Communications at Keele University, UK, and was also a popular speaker on scientific subjects among Christian university students. From his early work on RADAR during WWII, he transitioned to neuroscience and took the new field of information theory in a more philosophical and neuroscientific direction. Through a series of experiments on the human perceptual system, he argued for a model which preserved human agency entirely within a physical system. He distinguished his view from the monist behaviorism of B.F. Skinner, and the substance dualism of fellow brain research John C. Eccles. The philosophical foundation for MacKay’s position was rooted in his Calvinist theology. This paper will outline MacKay’s views from his published scientific and popular works, as well as unpublished manuscript sources.

Bio: Dr. Rampelt has studied Philosophy (B.A., Case Western Reserve University; MA, University of Pennsylvania), Theology (MAR and Th.M., Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia), and History and Philosophy of Science (Ph.D., Cambridge). After completing his doctoral studies in 2005, he was a research fellow at the newly formed Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge (2006-2009). Since returning to the United States, Dr. Rampelt spent three years working in neuroscience labs at the University of Pittsburgh, and is now adjunct faculty in the same university in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science and a Fellow of the Greystone Theological Institute. His research has investigated the role of theology and theologians in the history of science, particularly the Early-Modern period, as well as the role of theology in scientific creativity since that time.

3:40-4:00 PM Break

4:00 PM Tony Futerman, Weizmann Institute

“Do models implying a role for lipids in prebiotic synthesis stand up to recent developments in analytical techniques and lipid cell biology?

Lipids are involved in almost all models of prebiotic synthesis; however, biochemical models and chemical pathways of how lipids were spontaneously generated are scarce and lack chemical and mechanistic detail. In this talk, I will discuss recent advances in lipid biochemistry and cell biology which imply that many previous ideas might need to be re-evaluated. I will also suggest that the previously unanticipated complexity of lipid structure and function implies that lipids are far more than simply structural components of cell membranes, rather than they might be information-carrying molecules.

Bio: Tony Futerman is the Joseph Meyerhoff Professor of Biochemistry at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. He received his B.Sc. degree in Biochemistry at the University of Bath, England, in 1981, and then moved to the Department of Neurobiology of the Weizmann Institute of Science for his doctoral studies. From 1987-1990, he was a postdoctoral fellow in the Carnegie Institution in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1990, he joined the staff of the Weizmann Institute; he was appointed Full Professor in 2005. He was a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Biological Chemistry for 10 years, is the author of over 250 published papers mainly on lipid biochemistry and cell biology, and has edited two books, one on Ceramide Signaling and the other on Gaucher disease.

5:00-7:00 PM Dinner break

Monday night, March 11

6:30 PM Registration desk open

7:00 PM James Tour, Rice University

“Are Present Proposals on Chemical Evolutionary Mechanisms Accurately Pointing toward First Life?”

Abiogenesis is the prebiotic process wherein life, such as a cell, arises from nonliving materials such as simple organic compounds. Long before evolution can even begin, the origin of first life, that first cell, would have to come from some simpler nonliving molecules. On Earth, the essential molecules for life as we know it are carbohydrates (also called sugars or saccharides), nucleic acids, lipids, and proteins (polymers of amino acids). This talk will describe the process by which organic synthesis is performed, and the considerations that are generally required to synthesize a complex system where many molecular parts come together to operate concertedly. This will be demonstrated in the synthesis of nanomachines. Some proposals will be considered for the synthesis of carbohydrates and carbohydrate-bearing nucleotide bases from a prebiotic milieu. The current proposals can retard the field from discovering scientific solutions since they seem to be directing researchers down paths of futility.

Bio: James M. Tour, a synthetic organic chemist, is presently the T. T. and W. F. Chao Professor of Chemistry, professor of computer science, and professor of materials science and nanoengineering at Rice University. Tour has over 600 research publications and over 120 patents with total citations over 69,000. He was inducted into the National Academy of Inventors in 2015, named among “The 50 Most Influential Scientists in the World Today” by in 2014, listed in “The World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds” by Thomson Reuters in 2014, and named “Scientist of the Year” by R&D magazine in 2013.

7:50 PM Stephen Meyer, Discovery Institute

“Signature in the Cell: The Origin of Life and the Evidence for Intelligent Design”

In his book Signature in the Cell, philosopher of science Stephen Meyer wrote the first comprehensive DNA-based argument for intelligent design. In this presentation, Dr. Meyer tells the story of successive attempts to unravel a mystery that Charles Darwin did not address: how did life begin? Meyer develops the case for this often-misunderstood theory using the same scientific method that Darwin himself pioneered. Meyer will argue that belief in intelligent design is not based on ignorance or “giving up on science,” but instead on compelling, and mounting, scientific evidence.

Bio: Stephen C. Meyer received his Ph.D. in the philosophy of science from the University of Cambridge. A former geophysicist and college professor, he now directs Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Meyer is author of the New York Times bestseller Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design and Signature in the Cell, a (London) Times Literary Supplement Book of the Year.

8:40-9:30 PM Panel discussion of all the speakers