Bio: James Mahaffy

From: James Mahaffy (
Date: Thu Aug 15 2002 - 13:57:01 EDT

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    Here is my biography.

    Name: James Mahaffy

    Age: Born in 1947 (An attempt to deny that I am getting older- so you
    figure the math).

    Vocation: Biology teacher at Dordt College, a good undergrad liberal
    arts college in NW Iowa. It is associated with the Christian Reformed
    Church (CRC) although unlike Calvin it is independent. For those that do
    not know the reformed denominations they are really European
    Presbyterian. Both are presbyterian in government and Calvinistic in
    doctrine. That is from someone who came like Terry G. out of the OPC.
    (Orthodox Presbyterian Church).

    My PhD research was on paleoecology of a couple of the large coal seams
    in the Illinois Basin comparing detailed intraseam palynological
    patterns over short distances at a locality and between localities. A
    couple of publication have come out of this research and can be seen at

    Since Dordt is a smaller college (1,400) with a strong teaching
    emphasis, I have not specialized in doing Carboniferous research.
    Several vertebrate paleontological projects have fallen in my lab. I
    would like to get a first draft written on some Pleistocene mammals
    (mammoth, bison and musk ox) that were found in a local gravel pit.
    Since the muskox is probably the most significant find, I had to get up
    a bit on that literature Arghhh!!!!!. Last summer I helped a former
    paleontology student of mine uncover a big ichthyodectid fish from the
    local Cretaceous clay (Greenhorn formation). You can see a link to a
    web page describing this at Before I
    describe this find, I need to find a Cretaceous fish expert since I
    have no intention of becoming a vertebrate paleontologist.

    Another project I have been focusing on this summer is some relict and
    historic populations of rattlesnakes. In fact I got real excited this
    past week when I ran into historic accounts of rattlesnakes along the
    Boyer River (Western Iowa) from three locations stretched over about 50
    miles. Just so you know I am excited, they could massasauga that are
    rare enough (almost endangered) that snake people would be interested
    even though most reports were in the late 1800's. One was killed in
    1941 so maybe there is still a slough with a new population of
    massasauga (there are only three known for Iowa and this is on the
    Western edge of their known range).

    Educational Background:
    Given on my professional page above. I was born and raised as a
    missionary kid (OPC) in Eritrea (then part of Ethiopia) and except for
    three furloughs spent my first 18 years there. I developed a real love
    for animals and plants (we had a pet klipspringer and I raised praying
    mantises and had some great chameleon lizards as pets).

    I did my undergrad at Dordt. I thought of Wheaton (my folks were
    alumni), but it was pricey and I liked the reformed tradition.

    Then I taught high school in Orange city, Iowa for a couple years and
    went on to grad school and then back to Dordt. I eventually finished
    the PhD thesis and have been teaching since.


    I like computers and use webpages for classes and am list owner for the
    Christian Biology and Geology lists. That just means I volunteered to
    let them use the listsoftware we have and I am the person who takes care
    of problems with mail not getting on the list. Neither are moderated
    and unlike the ASA list, the Christian Biology list really could use
    some posts. See for
    instructions on how to join the list.

    Philosophical and religious background.
    I have a strong interest in Christianity and science. The fact that one
    of my undergrad teachers avoided the chapters on evolution in a Botany
    Course, (although reformed Christians think that all areas of academics
    should be looked at from a Christian perspective), stimulated me to go
    into grad school in paleobotany. I try to do some reading in the area of
    science and Christianity and have developed and extensively annotated
    bibliography. If interested send me a note and I will ether send you
    non public way to get it off the net or a hard copy.

    Just a bit about my own perspective. I am committed to high view of
    Scripture and a reformed perspective of trying to look at all areas of
    life from a Christian perspective. I tend to agree with Alvin Plantinga
    that biologists could and should do more to develop a Christian
    perspective of their science. I am probably a bit of an agnostic in
    terms of some of the current methods of integrating Christianity and
    science. Perhaps I can explain by my reaction to some of them.

    YEC (young earth Creationist): I like their strong commitment to
    Scripture, their willingness to think in a different paradigm and their
    ability to understand Christian laity. However, as you may have seen in
    my posts to Bill, they tend to have one model (the flood) that they make
    do too much. I just don't think it works.

    TE (theistic evolutionists): People like Terry have made me appreciate
    some who take this stand, but generally I find that it often does not
    see the secular roots of science and it is not a position that I take.

    ID (intelligent design): Like the YEC, I laud their engagement of the
    established science. They are much better then YEC at having good
    academic scholars in their camp. I also like their big tent philosophy,
    which accepts both YEC and OEC. I think the movement is too
    rationalistic and (form my C. Van Tilian perspective) denies the effect
    of their own presuppositions. The movement is also young and has not
    demonstrated that it can produce a paradigm that will affect mainstream
    science. Still this movement gets a lot more attention from mainstream
    science perhaps because it has scholars with good credentials engaging
    mainstream science. I actually agree more with Phil Johnson in the
    danger of secular effect of mainstream science than trying to show
    scientifically that God affects the world.

    SDA (Seventh Day Adventists): Although theologically SDA has been
    considered a fringe group from my background, Art Chadwick really has
    impressed me in the type of work he has done. That made me look a bit
    closer at the movement. I lie the fact that it has taken a different
    position from a its faith perspective and yet maintained academic
    standards. Of course the fairest and best historian of the Creationist
    movement is an exSDAer, Ron Numbers, clearly has demonstrated the
    historical dependence of Whitcomb and Morris on previous SDA geologists.

    Enough of that. You may gather that I think we sometimes to easy
    pigeonhole folks and try and interpret their positions from out
    perspective without first understanding their position. Maybe that stems
    from my love for philosophy and theology in addition to biology.

    James and Florence Mahaffy    712 722-0381 (Home)
    227 S. Main St.              712 722-6279 (Office)
    Sioux Center, IA 51250

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