Passion Talks 2016: August 12 & 13

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For the conference site go to:

We are in the midst of reviewing talks. We will post as talks are accepted. Below is a selected tentative list of accepted talks and will be updated regularly.

Medical Talk: Finding Order Amongst the Chaos of Cancer to Design Better Therapies

Next generation sequencing of cancer cells has given us incredible new information but turning this into real therapies that change cancer survival rates is a major challenge. By analysing the chaotic methylation patterns and genome deletions in cancer cell DNA we are designing mutation-specific therapies for precision medicine in cancer. I am committed to understanding patients as genuine people in their own context, not just as physical problems that need fixing and dedicated to medical mission to Syrian refugees in the Middle East. Faith is not the enemy of science: good science enhances faith and it takes great faith to discover the unseen things of science and bring them into the light.

Dr Daniel Thomas MD, PhD is a cancer and blood specialist, pathologist and stem cell transplant doctor currently working at Stanford University, School of Medicine developing new treatments for leukemia and other cancers. He is an author of over 30 peer-reviewed publications and book chapters and has received a number of awards for his cancer research ( Daniel served as South Australian chair of the Christian Medical and Dental Fellowship of Australia, speaking in public regarding euthanasia legislation and mentoring medical students. Daniel has served in mission teams to Romanian street kids, prison ministry in Ghana, South Indian villages, Palestinian refugee camps, Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan. He is a regular invited speaker for training in man-of-peace evangelism and working with unreached people groups with Youth With A Mission, Baja/San Diego for 4 years. He serves with The Gate International Church in local mission to Iranian, Arabic and Afghani immigrants with Pastor Ziad Srouji ( in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Economics Talk: A Rational Choice Model of Religion

We provide a framework to analyze why people join or leave a religious group. There are two players: a moral authority (e.g. a pastor), and a group of followers. The moral authority imposes a moral code and a set of demands (e.g. a 10% tithe). The followers’ utility comes from three sources: 1) how close is the moral code to his own moral standard, 2) how much is the demand going to cost him, and 3) how closely are other followers and the moral authority following the moral code. Our model suggests that when the Church has monopoly power over morality, such as in Medieval Europe, it is more likely to be corrupt: makes high demands (e.g. selling indulgence) and still maintains its followers. However, when the Church is facing competition, either from the State or from other religious groups, it is losing followers and hence become more likely to reform. The classic problem of market competition applies to the setting of religions.

I am a third-year PhD student at Stanford Economics. In my research I typically take a phenomenon from everyday life (e.g. church attendance) and use game theory tools to decipher people’s incentives. I’m interested in rational choice models of religion because up to this point of my life I have encountered four completely disjoint groups of people who all felt strongly about their worldviews. When I was little, my family worshiped the Chinese Communist Party. In middle school I attended a conservative Christian church in Louisiana and firmly believed in Young Earth Creationism. In college (MIT) I was surrounded by young liberal atheists. At Stanford I attend a Chinese church that opposes the Chinese Communist Party. I have always been interested in a rational choice foundation for why people adhere to their worldview. I have previously given two talks at Passion Talk; one on the problem of evil and one on the axiomatic foundation of God’s existence. I am a co-leader of an apologetics group at Stanford; we meet weekly to discuss the intellectual foundations of Christianity.

Media Talk: How Science Fiction 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.

Carl Varnado is an adjunct professor at Grand Canyon University and Media Arts Instructor at Rancho Solano Prep in Scottsdale AZ. He has written several faith based projects including his upcoming graphic novel, “The Lost Book of Kings” Mr. Varnado has been a speaker at the Alpha Omega Con, Black Enterprise African American Festival, Phoenix Comic Con and the Game Developers Conference. He was a founder of the Christian Prayer Group at the Game Developers Conference and holds dual master’s degrees Media Management and Education respectively.

Economics Talk: The Poor You Will Always Have With You 

When evaluating ideas that seek to benefit the poor, sustainability-related questions are typically posed in order to screen out ideas that require ongoing assistance in favor of ideas that have the potential to transform people and systems in ways that let them become self-sustaining. I examine this criterion in light of what the Gospel and Levitical law teach about the permanence of poverty as a social phenomenon and offer a warning that attempts to restrict help to purely temporary commitments may impede the true spiritual discipline of giving. I conclude by reviewing anecdotes and research on projects in international development where efficiency and sustainability are not aligned, i.e. where a donor would miss out on an efficient investment over concerns of efficiency or where a donor would commit to something inefficient because it promises sustainability.

I am a PhD candidate in economics studying development economics, currently researching comparisons between local governments and non-government organizations in their pro-poor targeting strategies.

Engineering Talk: Intrinsic vs Performance Identity

In Silicon Valley, and all high performance areas and industries, measuring people against their peers, and other companies, is used to drive people to high levels of productivity, which drives an identity warped solely by external feedback. This talk will explore the differences between an externally maintained (performance) identity, and an internally maintained (intrinsic) identity. This difference can be important for sustainable work for one’s self, and as to properly motivate work groups.

Greg has been a startup engineer for over 9 years thriving in leading cross-functional teams, as well as getting code all over his fingers. He has lead engineering teams, and individually contributed to successful startup exits (7 figure exits). Also, he has lead and coached small group leaders, and held various leadership positions, in local spiritual contexts.

Environment Talk: A Theology of Food: Reflections on the Eating Environment

Food, especially in the Bay Area, is central to how we use our time, money, and talents. How we have eaten has changed significantly in the past century, driven by the “ations”: globalization, industrialization, commodification, and commercialization. In recent years, people have pushed back against these trends, notably in current inclinations toward local, organic, non-GMO, “whole”, paleo, and other labels. What do we make of this from a public health perspective and from a Christian perspective? I will consider the former in light of equity, safety, and environment, and the latter with respect to guilt, hospitality, and sacrament.

Tomás León is a Ph.D. student in Environmental Health Sciences at UC-Berkeley. His present research foci include mathematical modeling of macroparasite transmission and techniques for assessing contamination in surface waters. His interest in food stems from his work on foodborne illness in Southeast Asia and food innovation and access in San Francisco.

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