The 2014 J. K. Russell Research Fellowship in
Religion and Science

Dr. Alex Filippenko

Research Conference, Saturday, April 26

The Annual J. K. Russell Research Conference
Saturday, April 26, 2014

Life in the Universe, Scientific and Religious Perspectives

Richard S. Dinner Board Room of the GTU (Hewlett Library), 2400 Ridge Road, Berkeley
1:00 to 5:00pm

Alex Filippenko is the Richard & Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor in the Physical Sciences. His accomplishments, documented in about 760 research papers, have been recognized by several major prizes, and he is one of the world's most highly cited astronomers. He is the only person to have been a member of both teams that discovered (in 1998) the accelerating expansion of the Universe, probably driven by "dark energy." This breakthrough was honored with the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics to the teams' leaders. In 2009 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and he shared part of the Gruber Cosmology Prize in 2007. He has won the top teaching awards at UC Berkeley and has been voted the "Best Professor" on campus a record 9 times. In 2006 he was selected as the Carnegie/CASE National Professor of the Year among doctoral institutions. He has produced five astronomy video courses with "The Great Courses," coauthored an award-winning textbook, and appears in about 100 TV documentaries. An avid tennis player, hiker, snorkeler, and skier, he enjoys world travel and is addicted to observing total solar eclipses (13 so far).

Dr. Alex Filippenko's Fellowship Lecture:

Life in the Universe: Scientific Perspectives and their Wider Implications

What do we know about the extent of life in the universe? Although the universe is inconceivably vast, is it barren or teeming with life? Dr. Filippenko will argue that while primitive microbial life might be common in the universe, intelligence and mechanical ability at the level of humans is exceedingly rare, at a rate of approximately one intelligent species at a time per galaxy. This conclusion is based on what has happened on Earth, and on the assumption that life originated simply from chemical processes and then evolved. It is clear that primitive life arose on Earth very quickly, almost as soon as conditions on Earth became favorable, that there were billions of species before humans appeared, and that humans appeared very recently in the evolutionary history of the earth. The fact that we have seen no evidence of intelligent aliens (the Fermi paradox), supports the idea that they are rare.

The conference respondents will take up the wider implications of Dr. Filippenko's conclusions from backgrounds which include the study of biology, physics, philosophy and theology and will discuss both Christian and Muslim perspectives, focusing on the philosophical and theological implications of current views of the scope of life in the universe.


Dr. Robert J. Russell is the Founder and Director of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS), and the Ian G. Barbour Professor of Theology and Science in Residence at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), Berkeley. He is the author of Time in Eternity: Pannenberg, Physics, and Eschatology in Creative Mutual Interaction (University of Notre Dame Press, 2012) and Cosmology from Alpha to Omega: Towards the Mutual Creative Interaction of Theology and Science (Fortress Press, 2008).  He has co-edited a multi-volume series of books focused on scientific perspectives on divine action through an international research conference program co-sponsored by CTNS and the Vatican Observatory, including such topics as quantum mechanics, chaos theory, evolutionary and molecular biology, the neurosciences, and quantum cosmology.  His current research topics include: resurrection, eschatology and scientific cosmology; quantum mechanics, biological evolution and divine action; evolution, theodicy and christology; philosophical assumptions in contemporary scientific cosmology and their theological roots; time and eternity from a Trinitarian perspective in relation to time in physics.

Dr. Mahan Mirza is the Dean of Faculty at Zaytuna College and a visiting scholar at the Graduate Theological Union with the Center for Islamic Studies in Berkeley, CA. He earned his PhD in religious studies from Yale University (2010), and an MA in the study of Islam and Christian-Muslim relations from Hartford Seminary (2003). Having studied in traditional Muslim, interfaith, and secular academic settings, Dr. Mirza engages in the study of Islam from multiple perspectives. He has taught a range of courses over the years, including Arabic, Islamic history, western religious traditions, the life of the Prophet Muhammad, history of science in Islamic societies, Hadith, Qur'an, logic, rhetoric, law, and ethics at Yale, CSU-Chico, Notre Dame, and Zaytuna. Selected publications include the Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought (assistant editor) and an article on "al-Biruni's thought and legacy" which was based on his doctoral work.

Jamie Randolph is a current Ph.D. candidate at Graduate Theological Union here in Berkeley. Jamie is currently studying systematic theology, while focusing her studies on the intersection of the natural sciences, particularly biology, and Christian theology. Prior to her move to California, Jamie lived in Minnesota where she earned a Bachelor of Science in biology from Gustavus Adolphus College. Following her undergraduate program, Jamie worked at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota where she performed cancer and stem cell research. After a handful of years in the laboratory, Jamie continued her education, this time transferring to Christian theology, by earning her Master of Arts in systematic theology at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. Jamie, then moved with her family, to Berkeley in 2012. She currently lives in Berkeley with her husband, beautiful daughter, and their dog, Grace.


Conference Respondents:
Robert Russell, Mahan Mirza, Jamie Randolph






Fellowship Lecture: Alex Filippenko

2:20pm Q&A from the floor

Response from Mirza

2:50pm Response from Randolph
3:10pm Break
3:30pm Response from Russell
3:50pm Discussion between Filippenko and the respondents
4:10pm Q&A from the floor
4:25pm Final Comments from the Fellow
4:30pm Announcement of the winners of the 2014 Charles H. Townes Graduate Student Fellowship Awards
4:45pm Adjournment and Refreshments



Register on-line (with your Visa, MasterCard or PayPal account), print a Registration Form to fax or mail
or call 510-848-8152 to register.

Conference Registration: General
Conference Registration: General, FT Student or Senior (62+)
Conference Registration: CTNS Member
Conference Registration: CTNS Member, FT Student or
Senior (62+)

Directions and Lodging:

  • GTU area Campus Map
  • Lodging Options:
    • Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704 (510) 848-7800
    • Hotel Durant, 2600 Durant Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704 (510) 845-8981
    • The French Hotel, 1538 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, CA (510) 548-9930 (closest hotel)


2400 Ridge Road, Berkeley, CA 94709-1212 •   Tel: 510-848-8152 Fax: 510-848-2535 • •   Site Map  •   Search