Stanford Passion Talks: August 22nd 2015


The Passion Talks Conference is a worldwide forum for topics involving works, faith, and passions. For the specific vision of Stanford Passion Talks 2015, see the official website. We are excited to present a selection of abstracts for this year’s conference, and are in the process of finalizing the schedule for the event. You can also join our FB event.

When: August 22nd, 2015 – Saturday, 9 am

Where: Stanford University, School of Medicine
300 Pasteur Dr, Stanford, California 94305

How: Please register online through our Eventbrite page by August 19th. If you would like to attend but have questions or concerns about the registration and/or fees, please contact

What: Here’s a sample selection of talks ranging from Technology, Medicine, Education, Business, Humanities, Social Sciences, and more from leading experts, PhD’s, and professionals.

COMPUTER SECURITY: Loving our neighbors and the least of these online. The silicon valley makes technology that’s used around the world, but is it safe? How can we love our neighbors and the least of these who find themselves in corrupt societies, or in an abusive situation? We’ll cover some existing ways tech companies are beginning to think about these problems, as well as current efforts and future ideas in the area of user security for vulnerable populations.

LAW: The Law Behind The Law. The phrase “separation of church and state” to us sounds like an anti-Christian refrain, but it was actually intended from the founding as a way to preserve religious liberty and purity. A landmark case in this area is 1947 Everson v Board of Education, where the First Amendment Establishment Clause was expanded to apply to the states. This concept is illustrated in recent religious freedom cases challenging the Affordable Care Act’s abortion/contraception mandate and inspiring the subsequent Religious Freedom Restoration Act. These controversies compel us to ask, “What is the ideal balance between church and state? Is it possible as Christians to hold certain views about personal morality but settle on a common norm with other Americans with different worldviews? What is Christian love as expressed through our politics?”

EDUCATION: Value and Purpose: Teaching Youth Around the World to Use Technology. With technology in this day and age, we are more connected than ever. Despite many similar institutions among nations, the way we educate the next generation is unavoidably influenced by our cultural context. So, given different cultures among the same socio-economic class, how do the next generation of engineers and designers learn and understand technology? This talk will present the experiences of teaching 6th-12th graders from all over the world at Stanford University and abroad and will present insight in regards to what different countries value in their education and it’s accessibility. While this course is often variations on Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence, and Game Design, I hope to teach students how to use their voice well towards having impact in their communities and beyond. Knowing that no matter what a person’s circumstances are that value comes from the unconditional Love that they all have, and the unconditional Love that they will always be able to give, I teach children to use technology to live for the best possible world they can dream up in their lifetime.

TECHNOLOGY: How can technology help us encounter God? Technology is reshaping human behavior by enhancing the motivation, ability and triggers for discrete actions that bring people value (BJ Fogg). For millennia, Christians have used the Bible to guide spiritual values and behaviors that they believe humans were created for. If the Bible contains meaningful values and behaviors, can these behaviors fit into technology models that enhance the motivation, ability and triggers for users of spiritual practices and help them engage more deeply in spiritual experience? For two years, a collection of Silicon Valley technologists from Google and other firms have been running experiments on the Abide prayer platform to test several hypotheses that people can experience prayer with greater meaning and intimacy in their daily life through digital media. The results conclude that for a significant portion of Christians, digital media can increase the practice of prayer by making it more relevant, easy and accessible in daily life.

PSYCHOLOGY: Octalysis: The Dark and Light sides of What Motivates Us Have you ever wondered why it is so hard to motivate people (including yourself) to do things that are meaningful? Even when you figure out quick-burst ways to change behavior, motivation starts to dwindle again after a short period of time. It becomes discouraging, demoralizing, and eventually leads to burnout. Gamification Pioneer Yu-kai Chou combines years of research and experience in game design, game dynamics, motivational psychology, behavioral economics, and UX/UI to explain the mysterious dynamics between White Hat and Black Hat Motivation in his Octalysis Framework, and how we can design for better long-run motivation.

SCIENCE: From fossil fuels to renewable energy — who delivers prosperity and salvation to our planet? Fossil fuels are among the most amazing gifts that God has endowed to human being. The chemical and energy derived from these “black gold” have been feeding our desire for economic growth. However, heavy dependence on fossil fuels and skyrocketing usage also result in environmental pollution, global warming and energy security crisis. Realizing all these problems, people turned to renewable energy resources to meet the ever-increasing needs for both current and future generation. In this presentation, I will introduce my research as an example of how we could convert fossil fuels and biomass into clean transportation fuels and valuable chemicals. I will present how I see scientific progress as interplay between God’s providence and human endeavor. Instead of attributing the development of such energy materials to purely human wisdom, I think it is God who provides everything we need for prosperity and guides solutions to the problems resulting from human’s limited wisdom and sinful nature.

COMPUTER SCIENCE: A Theology of Computer Programming Languages. Why did God create computer science? In this talk, I attempt to elucidate what might be called a “theology of computer science”,focusing in particular on computer programming languages. Like natural languages, programming languages are tools for communication, both between humans and computers. To futher this analogy, programming languages appear to embody social conventions chosen by particular communities with respect to how to communicate. Yet programming languages are clearly artificial, and in some cases can be traced back to the work of a single individual. If so, can they also be said to be created by God? I will argue that in some senses at least, the answer is yes. Based on our understanding of formal semantics, we do seem to catch glimses of some ultimate truth lurking beneath our own creations.

MEDICINE: Addiction, Virtue and Neuroscience. Addiction is an increasingly popular way to explain our behavior. From chocolate and Facebook, to traditional addictions like drugs and alcohol, we often behave in ways that are not in line with reason or our long term goals. Why? In this talk, I’ll describe the present dichotomy of “choice” vs “disease” and contrast this with more traditional understandings of human behavior from Aristotle and Aquinas. I’ll also briefly discuss parallels between these traditional understandings and modern thoughts on neuroscience.

ENTERTAINMENT: How Sci-Fi and Fantasy can save Christianity? Over the last 30 years, there have those who have seen the faith movement compete with the entertainment industry over the hearts and minds of the youth in this country. Faith Leaders have complained about the amount of sex, drugs and violence in the entertainment industry (gaming, comics, television and film) while the entertainment industry complains about the dogmatic principalities of religion. In the last 10 years, we have seen a shift in churches producing their own content (God’s Not Dead, Fireproof, Courageous) which have been met with a warm reception at the box office and home video. This talk is a call to action for Christian content makers to take the next step. We need not only new christian dramas, but also new approaches to biblical classics as well as contemporary ideas. The bible mentions dragons, fallen angel offspring, behemoths, Leviathans, and a chariot made of fire. It is time for the Star Wars generation to reimagine some of these interpretations for a generation who grew up with Lord of the Rings and the Matrix. Perhaps then we can bridge the gap between those in the pulpit and those at Comic-Con.

HEALTH: Maximize Physical & Spiritual Potential. As Resistance Training is needed for physical improvements, God knows perfectly how much spiritual resistance (stress-trials) we need and can handle to develop our spiritual potential. Optimal nutrition, hydration, and periodic rest are also important to rejuvenate, regenerate, and cleanse. Such is needed for all our human passions, performances, energy, longevity, and to offer good object lessons to prioritize the spiritual body. This is also relative to my greater gift and passion for Judeo-Christian Apologetics, with a daily spiritual hunger & thirst. My occupation at Google offers me such opportunities to arise on occasional personal levels too, with the mindset that the Old and New Testaments are perfectly compatible into One Holy Inspired Book. Daily “spiritual” good food, water, and exercise are needed to maximize our spiritual potential with all other gifts of the Spirit as well.

PHILOSOPHY: Consciousness: Are Our Minds Just Biological Machinery? In the modern era, interest in neuroscience and artificial intelligence is exploding. Current speculation about the possibilities of artificial intelligence often assumes a materialistic account of consciousness, which is the current paradigm for neuroscience research and much of modern philosophy of mind. However, the past century has been marked by a series of failures in philosophy of mind to provide a plausible materialist account of basic features of the human consciousness. Such features include freedom of the will, personhood, intentionality, and moral responsibility. This emerging realization among philosophers and neuroscientists seems poised to upset the current materialistic, naturalistic paradigm. Indeed, atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel, reflecting on this in his recent book Mind and Cosmos says, “I would be willing to bet that the present right-thinking consensus will come to seem laughable in a generation or two.” Is this assessment reasonable? Are there alternatives to the common materialistic conception of the mind?

CHARITY: How to be a Servant to the Poor. Christians are strongly motivated to follow Christ’s example and serve the least of those among us. For many, that includes a component of giving to international causes that directly provide material needs for the poor. This is both an enriching and confusing process. It is enriching because it truly allows us to reach out to the least of our neighbors and discover Christ as we serve very basic needs. It is confusing because it is so much harder to make wise and practical decisions about how to support non-profits than it is to make wise and practical decisions about how to optimize private investments or private purchases. I will share a way of looking at our motivations for giving in a Christian context and argue that choosing organizations based on demonstrated effectiveness is a wise and attainable goal. Furthermore, I will balance wisdom and practicality against humility and partnership in Christ to urge caution with respect to “over-monitoring,” that is, reducing an organization’s capacity by attaching strings to donations. Finally, I will emphasize ways to make exercising wisdom as simple and exciting as possible.

Special Thanks to the organizing committee!


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