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Terry Gray
 on May 12, 2016

The History of the American Scientific Affiliation

From the start, the American Scientific Association was dedicated to the belief that there is no ultimate conflict between the true facts of science (vs. speculative theories) and Scripture.


From the start, the American Scientific Association was dedicated to the belief that there is no ultimate conflict between the true facts of science (vs. speculative theories) and Scripture.

An exploration of the history of the American Scientific Affiliation, an organization of Christian scientists.

Almost forty years ago, I made one of the most important decisions of my life. I joined the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), the oldest organization of Christian scientists in North America and publisher of the academic journal, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. Through the ASA, either directly or indirectly, I’ve met dozens of top scientists and scholars who served as role models for my own career as a Christian scholar—including Deb Haarsma and her predecessor at BioLogos, Darrel Falk. Countless articles from the ASA journal have introduced me to many of the ideas I now embrace myself and pass on to my students and readers of BioLogos.

Plenary speakers at 2002 ASA meeting

Plenary speakers and others involved with the 2002 ASA meeting. Left to right: historian Ted Davis of Messiah College (program co-chair), nuclear physicist Ian Hutchinson of MIT (speaker), astronomer and historian Owen Gingerich of Harvard (speaker), astronomer Jennifer Wiseman of NASA (speaker), historian Sara Miles of Eastern University (program co-chair), geneticist and BioLogos founder Francis Collins of the NIH (speaker), and biologist Dorothy Chappell of Wheaton College (ASA Council member). Missing from this photograph was another speaker, physicist Charles Townes of UC-Berkeley, winner of the Nobel Prize for his work on masers (which led to lasers). Photograph and caption by Ted Davis.

There is simply no better place for scientists to network with fellow Christians, while learning new answers to age-old questions, and no better place for lay Christians to upgrade their understanding of current thinking about science and faith.

By facilitating deep conversations among Christians, the ASA has been a major player in the story of American religion and science. I’m bringing you a short history of the ASA, written by molecular biologist Terry Gray, a longtime ASA member. Terry wrote an excellent chapter about evolution and biochemistry (partly responding to claims from ID proponents) in one of the very best books about Evolutionary Creation; he also co-authored (with biophysicist Loren Haarsma) a second chapter on “Complexity and Self-Organization.” When BioLogos awarded the ASA an ECF grant in 2014, it was Terry’s job (working with Emily Ruppel) to “make available on the internet those videos, audio files, and papers that best help demonstrate the viability of evolution as a Christian worldview.” The main outcome of the ECF project is the web site Resources on Science and Christian Faith. Along the way, he wrote the history we are now presenting.

The next words you read are his. – Ted Davis

The Early Years of the American Scientific Affiliation

Evangelical Christians have responded in various ways to developments in modern science since the nineteenth century, when geologists started advocating an old earth and Darwin published On the Origin of Species (1859). Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield and others who created the Princeton Theology in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries forged somewhat of a peace with science, as documented in David Livingstone’s book, Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders. Evangelicals with more fundamentalist roots have been slower to do so and have been wrestling with science ever since. Both of these groups played major roles in the history of the ASA.

The ASA began in 1941 as “a group of Christian scientific men devoting themselves to the task of reviewing, preparing, and distributing information on the authenticity, historicity, and scientific aspects of the Holy Scriptures in order that the faith of many in the Lord Jesus Christ may be firmly established.” Today, with a similar but somewhat broader purpose, ASA seeks “to investigate any area relating Christian faith and science and to make known the results of such investigations for comment and criticism by the Christian community and by the scientific community.” ASA has a seventy-five-year history of dialogue and discussion about faith-science issues with much of that discussion focused on evolution.

Modern Science and Christian Faith

Working with Van Kampen Press of Wheaton, in 1948 the ASA published 5,000 copies of its first major publication, Modern Science and Christian Faith, containing eleven chapters written by ASA members in several different disciplines. It sold for $3.00. A second, “enlarged” edition appeared two years later.

From the start, the ASA was dedicated to the belief that there is no ultimate conflict between the true facts of science (vs. speculative theories built on those facts) and Scripture. The five founders were all practicing scientists. An early project was the book, Modern Science and Christian Faith (1948). Already the value of thoroughly discussing difficulties and not necessarily promoting a particular point of view is evident. In a brochure soliciting contributions, chemist Irving Cowperthwaite (a founding member) wrote,

It is felt that such a frank airing of both sides of the question will appeal to the student and will receive a consideration when other more sensational approaches will not. Students are intelligent and fully capable of arriving at constructive conclusions if full data are presented. The dangerous, insidious conviction is that based on an incomplete knowledge of the problem… The statements and representations…must be able to meet the scrutiny of men unfriendly to the cause of Christ and rise unscathed. Error or misrepresentations of science would seriously impair the usefulness of the book.

The commitment to rigorous science was present in the ASA from the beginning.

The chapters on astronomy (by Peter W. Stoner of Pasadena City College) and geology (by Edwin K. Gedney of Gordon College) recognized the immense age of the universe and the results of radiometric dating to establish that age. One important geological observation is the absence of transitional forms, a relatively uncontested claim in the 1950s. Consequently, the authors distanced themselves from theistic evolution and tended toward a progressive creationist view. While the statements of Scripture were seen to be consonant with the latest findings of science, the authors recognized that the Bible is not a scientific textbook and is perhaps pre-scientific, noting that “its main message is one of salvation and spiritual life.” The chapter on “Biology and Creation” was firmly anti-evolutionary. It reviewed the latest genetics research, although was clearly written prior to the modern molecular biology era. Significantly, the authors of this chapter, William J. Tinkle of Taylor University and consulting horticulturalist Walter E. Lammerts, were part of the group of ten ASA members who in 1963 started the Creation Research Society, a group committed to the tenets of young-earth creationism. Apparently, they were not convinced of the great age of the earth and universe or the viability of the day-age view of Genesis 1. The second edition included a very long chapter on anthropology (by William A. Smalley and Marie Fetzer) covering race, cultural development, linguistics, and fossil hominids. The authors sought to correlate the scientific data concerning human origins with Scripture. Manifesting some prescience, this early article laid out the options on human evolution and Christian faith that ASA members continue to explore to this day.

Overall, however, Modern Science and Christian Faith was resistant to evolutionary science and committed to a fairly literalistic reading of the Bible. Evolution and creation are pitted against each other, and effort is taken to show that evolution is speculative and not rooted in the facts of science. On the other hand the authors grappled with the scientific data. This commitment to engage science ultimately transformed the ASA from its anti-evolutionary roots to its present attitude of openness to evolution as a biological theory, as members increasingly came to recognize that biological evolution was compelling science.

ASA Photo

ABOVE: Columbia geophysicist J. Laurence Kulp (center) explains a rock sample to Wheaton zoologist Russell L. Mixter (left) and Oregon State engineer F. Alton Everest (right), at the 1950 meeting at Goshen College. A major research scientist who pioneered radiocarbon dating and helped start the Lamont Geophysical Laboratory, Kulp heavily influenced attitudes toward natural history among ASA members. Photograph courtesy of the ASA.

Embracing Mainstream Science

The ASA’s early embrace of mainstream science was influenced by J. Laurence Kulp, a Princeton-trained physical chemist/geochemist at Columbia whose research focused onradiometric dating. His critique of the young-earth creationist (YEC) view helped the ASA resist a push by some to become a YEC organization. At the 1948 annual meeting at Calvin College, Calvin biologist Edwin Y. Monsma presented a paper critiquing “Some Basic Presuppositions in Evolutionary Thinking” in which he questioned the great age of the earth. In the ensuing discussion, Kulp schooled the attendees in the latest geological views, including radiometric dating, saying,” one of the most probable facts in geology, I believe, is that the earth is close to two billion years old.”

Kulp had an even larger impact on the 1949 meeting at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (now Biola University), yet he wasn’t even there, owing to his heavy schedule at Columbia. He wrote two papers anyway. Wheaton anthropologist Marie Fetzer read the famous one on “Deluge Geology,” which directly attacked the “flood geology” view of George McCready Price and was firmly anti-YEC. Although Price was present in the room the whole time, he remained quiet until the chair of the session, Goshen physicist Paul Bender, pointedly asked him to comment. Whatever he said, it was all too brief and apparently unmemorable, though his frustration came out six years later, when he told John C. Whitcomb, Jr., that Kulp had “omitted all mention of my fundamentals,” amounting to nothing more than “a tiresome rehash of the old familiar story of the geological ages” (quoted in Kalthoff’s dissertation, cited below, p. 476). Kulp’s viewpoint seems to have been generally well-received, since that same year he was elected to the ASA Executive Council. However, as soon as he saw it in print, YEC Henry Morris dashed off an eight-page letter to the ASA president, rebutting Kulp’s conclusions and defending Price, whose ideas he had embraced just a few years before.

ASA Journal Cover

When the ASA began to publish a journal in 1949, the pages were mimeographed from typed originals and stapled into light gray stiff paper covers. Kulp’s paper refuting flood geology appeared the following year in the second volume (shown here), which also included an article on “Behaviorism and Philosophical Psychology” by another scholar who strongly influenced the organization, the great evangelical theologian Bernard Ramm. Early issues of the Journal are rare, partly because a disastrous fire in the ASA office destroyed numerous items. Photograph by Ted Davis.

While YEC advocates were not unwelcome in the ASA, it was clear already in the early 1950s that the organization was not opposed to consensus science, including an old earth and universe. The later decision in 1963 by some ASA members to launch an alternative organization, the Creation Research Society, reflects the young-earth creationists’ dissatisfaction with this direction. YEC members continued to be involved in the ASA, but they had to share the stage with those who accepted the conclusions of mainstream science. Consequently, fewer YEC voices were heard. The critique of flood geology culminated in 1969 with a highly critical review of Whitcomb and Morris’s The Genesis Flood, entitled “Fundamentalism and the Fundamentals of Geology,” by geologist J. R. van de Fliert of the Free University of Amsterdam.

Promoting mainstream science in the ASA on the biological side was Wheaton zoologist Russell L. Mixter, with a PhD (1939) from the University of Illinois and a career that spanned over fifty years. He authored the ASA monograph “Creation and Evolution”, first published in 1950 and revised in 1967, which was based on three papers given at ASA meetings: “The Kind of Genesis and the Kind of Geology” (1946), “The Extent of Change since the Origin of Species” (1947), and “The Mechanisms of Evolution” (1948). Mixter was influential in helping the ASA (and Evangelicals in general) stay informed about the latest developments in evolutionary theory and advocated the acceptance of evolutionary ideas as far as they were firmly established. He also edited the 1959 volume Evolution and Christian Thought Today, a collection of essays by ASA scientists presenting state of the art origins science and reflecting on it from a Christian perspective (1959 was the hundred-year anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species).

Mixter was convinced that evolutionary processes explained some of the world’s biological diversity. But in his view, neither genetic mechanism nor the fossil record supported common ancestry of every living creature. He found this perceived empirical limitation consistent with the use of “kinds” in Genesis 1. Technically, this made Mixter and other like-minded ASA scientists progressive creationists, but it does not seem that they were in principle opposed to an entirely evolutionary understanding of creation (except perhaps in the case of the origin of Adam and Eve). They simply did not think that the current scientific evidence warranted the full embrace of evolutionary theory. Today’s proponents of YEC, OEC, and ID continue to advance many of the same arguments advanced by Mixter.

The angst felt by ASA members in the course of this early engagement with evolution is seen in a comment by founding member Irving A. Cowperthwaite about the 1957 ASA meeting. He noticed with much concern “a growing conviction that inexorable pressure of expanding knowledge is about to force us to accept some formulation of the theory of evolution, including the evolutionary origin of man, and that we must adjust our thinking in accordance with this eventuality.”

Really, the Bible Is Not a Textbook of Science

The second major development from the early decades of the ASA is the beginning of what critics believed to be a relaxation of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. Others would say that the ASA was at last taking seriously the claim that the Bible was not a textbook of science. Perhaps more than anything else, Baptist theologian Bernard Ramm’s 1954 book, The Christian View of Science and Scripture, opened the door to the idea that the language of Scripture is neither technical nor scientific, but rather the language of the common person as they experience the world in an ordinary manner.

In 1963, JASA published an article by the distinguished Stanford physicist, Richard H. Bube“A Perspective on Scriptural Inerrancy.” He distinguished between “arbitrary inerrancy,” where “the Scriptures are considered to be verbally inspired, inerrant, and infallible in an arbitrarily absolute sense as factual information,” and “revelational inerrancy,” where “the Scriptures are indeed verbally inspired, inerrant, and infallible as a revelation of God by Himself to men.” The key distinction is that the Bible may contain “errors,” namely, mistaken opinions about the natural world held by the original human authors and the original audience, as long as these are not central to the revelatory purpose of the Bible. However, as Bube was quick to say, “This by no means implies that there are ‘errors’ of fact in the Bible, but rather that the criteria for judging fact are often either uncertain or irrelevant to the revelational purpose of the Bible,” for example, the idea that the ancients, including the writers of the Bible, held to a three-storied universe.

For some inside and outside the ASA, Ramm offered a less strict position on the inspiration of the Bible, leading to accusations of modernism. Bube continued to promote the dialogue in the Journal after he succeeded Mixter as the editor in 1969. The ASA, its journal, and the key players were all featured in Harold Lindsell’s famous book, The Battle for the Bible (1976), as examples of evangelicals who had compromised scriptural inerrancy—a charge that Bube answered.

Not everyone in the ASA who accepted modern science thought that it came at the expense of the doctrine of inerrancy. For example, Arthur W. Kushke, a critic of Ramm’s view, nevertheless wrote, “It was good to note, among other things, the desire that Christian statements on science should be informed; the views on the chronology of the earth and of man and the elasticity of the creative ‘kind’; and the opposition to the flood view of the fossils.” Apparently, Kuschke thought that that the kind of inerrancy he advocated did not require views which would set the Christian scientist against much of modern science. Others have noted that the view of inerrancy upheld by the Old Princeton theologians was perhaps a bit more nuanced than the view of Harold Lindsell.

After two decades the ASA seemed comfortable with a view of Scripture, or a way of interpreting Scripture that removed most of the earlier perceived conflicts between the Bible and science. Issues related to interpreting the Genesis “days” and the created “kinds,” a geologically young earth, and the extent (both geographically and anthropologically) of the Genesis flood were no longer seen to be problems. This dissolution of scriptural difficulties led many members to be more accepting of well-established scientific claims.

ASA Cover

ABOVE: The December 1971 issue of the ASA Journal featured an editorial, “We Believe in Creation,” by Richard H. Bube. It was a defining moment in ASA history. The logo with the vertical and horizontal arrows, representing the Creator and the creation, has been part of the front cover since 1964. Ted notes: I acquired this back issue (and a few dozen others) not long after I joined the ASA a few years later. Bube’s both/and approach to “Creation and/or Evolution” heavily influenced my own thinking—compared with most of the other things I had seen in the evangelical world at that time, it was a breath of fresh air. Photograph by Ted Davis.

The End of Either/Or

During the first three decades of the ASA, many members held an either/or attitude concerning creation and evolution: it’s one or the other, not both. Many secular scientists agreed that such a choice had to be made. Two publications in 1971 by the editor of the ASA Journal, Stanford materials scientist physicist Richard H. Bube, signaled the beginning of the end of the older attitude. The titles of his articles adequately summarized Bube’s position: We Believe in Creation and “Biblical Evolutionism?” While some members had already dropped hints of embracing evolution as a God-directed means of creation, most earlier writings depicted evolution as a stark alternative to biblical creation. Thus it was very significant for the editor to adopt a different tone. “The implication is given, deliberately or not, that if evolution should be the proper mechanism for the growth and development of living forms, then creation would have to be rejected. To pose such a choice is to do basic damage to the Christian position.”

For Bube, and increasingly for other members, especially younger ones, creation is primarily a theological concept while evolution is primarily a scientific, biological concept. One does not have to choose between the two. At the same time, Bube recognizes that the real religious threat comes from “evolutionary philosophy,” or what he also calls “evolutionary religion” or just “evolutionism,” where advocates go beyond the science and develop a naturalistic worldview or a faith-system that competes with Christianity. His essay, “We Believe in Creation,” still deserves widespread dissemination.

Thus, already by the early 1970s the broad outlines of the evolution discussion in the ASA were present. There was little objection, in principle, to evolution as a biological theory. A serious problem that remained for many was how the biblical account of Adam and Eve could be reconciled with the evolutionary story. Since ASA members believed in a Creator who could operate miraculously and supernaturally, they could freely acknowledge that biological evolution might not explain everything. For sure, some members continued to critique evolution on scientific grounds. Mostly identifying themselves as old earth creationists (OEC), they would link arms later with Hugh Ross’s science-based ministry, Reasons to Believe, and/or the Intelligent Design (ID) movement as it gained momentum in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In 1978, a special issue of JASA devoted to origins issues was published. Entitled “Origins and Change: Selected Readings from the JASA,” it was edited by Oregon State biologist David L. Willis and reprinted several key articles from the JASA that fully represented the spectrum of ASA members’ views. While the issue included voices unsympathetic to evolutionary biology, the overall impression given is that old-earth geology, biological evolution, and Christianity can coexist.

As noted earlier the ASA has always been willing to foster discussion of controversial questions about science, providing a forum for their discussion within the larger Christian community. Bube’s article, “We Believe in Creation,” begins by observing, “It should be well known to readers of the Journal ASA that the ASA does not take an official position on controversial questions,” a stance that still distinguishes it from BioLogos and most of the other major players in the contemporary origins debate. About this same time, the ASA president, Marquette anthropologist Claude E. Stipe, wrote an editorial for JASA, “Does the ASA Take a ‘Position’ on Controversial Issues? He was responding to complaints that ASA had become an officially pro-evolution organization. He denied it and sought to prove it by rehearsing the history of the ASA particularly with respect to the question of its taking sides.

The same charge continues to be levelled by some today, despite the fact that the Journal still publishes articles arguing for other viewpoints. Even more significantly, several ASA presidents in this century have held viewpoints other than evolutionary creationism, including ID and OEC. Why does history seem to repeat itself in this way? Probably for one simple reason: since the late 1960s and early 1970s, the ASA has been an organization where Christians who accept the science of evolution are welcomed at its highest ranks (alongside members with other views), whereas most other science-faith organizations are either officially or all but officially opposed to evolutionary science. Where else then would pro-evolution Christians be found? While this shift was taking place, however, other voices were still at the table. There continued to be YEC, OEC, and ID advocates within the ASA, with similar diversity of views on Scripture and the exact meanings of inerrancy and infallibility. The ASA had become—and continues to be—a place of discussion and grappling with the issues, rather than an advocacy organization.

The Maturing of the ASA and Its Interaction with the ID Movement

By the late 1970s the lines were drawn. The ASA had become a voice in the Christian community for old universe cosmology, old earth geology, and theistic evolution. The idea that creation and evolution were competing ideas was much less common. However, owing to the influence of YEC organizations—which always seemed much more successful in communicating their message to a general audience than the ASA—Evangelicalism as a whole continued to struggle with these questions, even though many ASA members were active in evangelical churches.

The discussion in the ASA became more sophisticated as well. Issues related to origins, the traditional focus of the ASA, increasingly had to share the stage with other topics, including a growing American and evangelical environmentalism. Theological questions about exactly how God interacts with the created universe were explored more thoroughly. More attention was given in the Journal to the history and the philosophy of science, and members became more aware of the ASA’s role in the history of the encounter between Christianity and science. Other mature voices exploring these waters, especially the English physicist-theologian John Polkinghorne, began to receive more attention, and the herculean efforts of John Templeton to stimulate serious academic discussion of science and religion benefitted the ASA as well as many other organizations and individuals. Robert Herrmann, executive director of the ASA from 1981 to 1994, wrote articles on the intersection of biology and the Christian faith and spearheaded a productive collaboration with his friend John Templeton. Historian Edward (“Ted”) B. Davis, chemist John (“Jack”) W. Haas, Jr., chemist Arie Leegwater, historian Ronald Numbers (an agnostic who has never been an ASA member but who has spoken at ASA conferences and published in the Journal), and others pushed the ASA to be more conscious of the history of science. Lutheran physicist/theologian George Murphy helped make the ASA more theologically aware.

Nevertheless, debates over origins would not go away. ASA members became involved in the national and legal debates that were gearing up concerning the teaching of evolution (and/or creationism) in the public schools. Similar controversy also arose in other places. In a key incident, astronomer Howard Van Till, geologist Davis Young and chemist Clarence Menninga, all from Calvin College, found themselves in the middle of an origins controversy within the Christian Reformed Church of North America, the denomination with authority over the college. Ultimately those faculty were not charged with heresy, but it was not a pleasant time for them. Although the ASA was not directly involved, the publicity given to the scientists did sometimes reflect back onto the ASA and certainly heightened the visibility of their views within the organization.

This same era saw the rise of the ID movement, which is complex and not simplistically categorized into the usual categories of YEC, OEC, or TE. There seemed to be a common anti-evolutionary strand: evolutionary mechanisms cannot account for what ID proponents call “specified irreducible complexity” in living systems or in major fossil transitions such as the Cambrian Explosion. The ASA welcomed this conversation, and the remaining critics of theistic evolution in the ASA embraced the movement. Many annual meeting sessions, symposia, and articles in the Journal (now called Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith) were devoted to ID. Phillip Johnson’s lawyer’s brief against common ancestry, Darwin on Trial, was discussed thoroughly in PSCF and at ASA meetings. (Ted notes: I fully agree with Terry; I was present for much of that discussion, mostly as a listener rather than a presenter. Johnson himself was a plenary speaker at one point.)

ID’s critique of evolutionary biology in general and theistic evolution in particular was answered in the ASA by such voices (among others) as Howard Van Till, who argued for a robust, fully equipped creation that had no need for episodic special creative events; paleontologist Keith Miller, who argued (contrary to Johnson and others) that there are transitional forms in the fossil record; this author, who argued that molecular machines were evolvable; physicist Loren Haarsma, who also questioned ID’s view of God’s interaction with the universe. Once again the ASA refused to advocate for one specific position, yet consequently it gained a reputation for taking sides on this issue simply because it was unwilling to become the voice of the ID movement. The discussion between proponents of ID and TE within the ASA continues to the present.

Not long before Johnson’s views were vetted, the ASA undertook a major venture with which Johnson was probably highly sympathetic. They published a booklet, Teaching Science in a Climate of Controversy: A View from the American Scientific Affiliation (1986), intended as a supplemental text at the secondary school level and higher. It was the work of the Committee on Integrity in Science Education (David Price, cattle rancher-geologist John Wiester, and biochemist Walter Hearn). The “controversy” refers to the debate between YEC and evolutionary biology concerning what should be taught in the public schools; the Supreme Court had not yet ruled on this question. Consonant with the majority in the ASA, Teaching Science rejected the YEC view as an unscientific, inappropriate intrusion of a particular religious viewpoint into the science classroom. At the same time, it also warned against science trying to answer religious and philosophical questions beyond its competence, for example, extrapolating from observed random chemical processes to philosophical accidentalism. The booklet walked through four topics of modern origins science: the Big Bang, the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, and human origins. Not surprisingly, Teaching Sciencewas criticized by YEC organizations and teachers in Christian schools teaching from a YEC perspective, but to the surprise of the authors and to many in the ASA it was highly criticized in the mainstream science education and creation/evolution literature as being just another “creationist” tract.

Even within the ASA, there were those who thought that Teaching Science overstated the critique of evolution, especially in the discussion of the Cambrian Explosion and human evolution. Full discussion of these issues continued in the ASA in the context of the debate about ID. Retrospectively, it is not hard to see hints of the ID agenda in Teaching Science. While it seems clear that the mainstream critics were unfair, perhaps a reading between the lines of Teaching Science fueled the critique. The ASA has always been blessed by a diversity of views, but this has frequently hampered its ability to produce educational resources accessible to a broader non-technical audience. Teaching Science proved to be no different.

In response to this very public conversation, in 1991 the ASA Executive Council adopted a resolution called “A Voice for Evolution as Science.” Shortly thereafter, the ASA Commission on Creation produced a consensus document, “A General Statement on Creation, that was unanimously adopted by the five authors, who truly did represent all major views within the ASA: William Dembski (ID), Keith Miller (TE), Paul Nelson (YEC and ID), Robert C. Newman (OEC), and David Wilcox (TE).

Recent Developments

Previously we’ve learned about some major ASA publications—Modern Science and Christian Faith(1948 and 1950), Evolution and Christian Thought Today (1959), and Origins and Change (1978)—all of which brought original ideas about origins to wider audiences than just ASA members. In the same spirit, in 2003 Kansas State geologist Keith B. Miller edited a volume entitled Perspectives on an Evolving Creation (2003). While not actually an official ASA book, the editor and many of the twenty contributors were active members. State-of-the-art science relevant to evolution is reviewed and Christian perspectives on the science are offered. The scientific and theological articles are interspersed with brief devotionals written by some of the contributors.

Developments in biochemistry, molecular biology, and genetics have pushed many in the ASA fully to embrace evolutionary biology. In 1971, JASA featured a transcription of The Protein Clock, an episode of Hale Sparks’ popular CBS radio program, “The University Explorer”. The broadcast presented the comparative molecular data for evolution (amino acid sequences of proteins), which seemed to provide independent evidence for Darwin’s tree of life and convinced many that even major taxonomic groupswere related (at the molecular level, there really are no gaps). Long standing critiques of macroevolution in the ASA began to dissolve as this data became well known.

Molecular geneticist Francis S. Collins, a prominent American scientist, is also a serious Christian. He is especially known for identifying and sequencing the genes for several human genetic pathologies, including cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s Disease. In 1993, he succeeded James Watson as head of the human genome project at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and is now Director of the NIH. In 2006, Collins published The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, in which he relates the story of his conversion from being an “obnoxious atheist” to becoming an evangelical Christian. A Fellow of the ASA, he was a keynote speaker at annual meetings in 20022006, and 2010. In his opinion, human genetics and comparative genomics provide virtually irrefutable evidence for biological evolution, including the evolution of human beings, but Collins places evolution within the perspective of his deep Christian faith. In 2007, Collins established the BioLogos Foundation, “a community of evangelical Christians committed to exploring and celebrating the compatibility of evolutionary creation and biblical faith.” Although the ASA is not an advocacy organization, it has collaborated with BioLogos on several matters of common interest.

Another key communicator within the ASA (and BioLogos) is geneticist Dennis Venema of Trinity Western University, an expert on the implications of the latest genetics research for common ancestry. Biologist and theologian Denis Lamoureux, occupant of the first Canadian university chair devoted to science and religion at St. Joseph’s College, University of Alberta, has also emerged as a key advocate for a fully evolutionary view within the ASA. With earned doctorates in dentistry, biology, and theology, Lamoureux has written a wide-ranging academic book, Evolutionary Creation (2008), and a more popular version with the catchy title, I Love Jesus and I Accept Evolution (2009). Like Collins, Lamoureux tells his personal religious journey from atheism to YEC crusader to ID advocate to evolutionary creationist. He argues that the ancient science found in the Bible is not itself divinely revealed; rather, it’s an accommodation to the prescientific understanding of the original audience. In other words, the Bible is the incidental, culturally relative medium in which God reveals the theological and redemptive message. In many ways Lamoureux’s views are similar to those advocated more than forty years ago by Richard Bube and Paul Seely, but his work is probably much better known than theirs outside the organization.

Despite an increasing openness to the biology of human evolution in the ASA, the biblical and theological issues continue to vex some ASA members. A high quality symposium at the annual meeting in 2009 (at Baylor University) was devoted to the topic, and the issue of the ASA Journal containing the papers sold more copies than any other issue in history. It appears that many members are still considering the options that were first proposed in Modern Science and Christian Faith all the way back in 1948.

Lessons Learned

The ASA has always taken science seriously. In general, members trust and follow the broader scientific community on technical matters, while at the same time the ASA has always been open to discussing alleged weaknesses in scientific theories. Of course, this is part of taking science seriously as a fallible form of human knowledge. A very large majority of ASA members accept the old universe/old earth cosmology, while many also accept biological evolution and see no conflict with a Christian perspective.

In order to do this, many ASA members gave up on the idea that detailed scientific claims are to be found in the Bible. Some have done this by adopting some form of limited inerrancy. Others interpret alleged scientific errors in the Bible as prescientific phenomenological claims employing the language of appearances. Either way, things such as the days of creation, the biological kinds of Genesis, geocentrism, the Genesis chronology, and so forth are simply not relevant to modern science, even from a Christian perspective. Equally important is the recognition that there is a difference between a theological claim and a scientific claim.

Seeing evolution as contradictory to creation prevented its adoption as a scientific theory. Placing evolution and creation in fundamentally different categories opened the door to embracing evolution as science and as part of God’s creation. Recognizing this distinction has allowed the ASA properly to critique an atheistic naturalism that uses science to support its non-scientific philosophical agenda.

Ultimately, the ASA seems willing to live with ambiguity. Its members realize that they do not have all the answers—neither theologically, nor scientifically, nor or at the interface of the two. Perhaps they will never have the answers; indeed, perhaps not having the answers is part of being finite creatures. Yet its members keep talking, even when they disagree, and this is surely a strength of the ASA as an organization. Christian faith, which includes the belief that God created all things, binds ASA members together. Exploring Creation as scientists in the context of this shared faith has always been, and still remains, their common task.

1947 ASA

The nineteen participants at the second annual conference of the ASA (1947), held at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, represented almost one-quarter of the members. Ted notes: Just two of the five founding members were able to attend, Irving Cowperthwaite (front row, second from left) and Alton Everest (second row, first on the left). Even apart from an obvious demographical uniformity, this early gathering illustrates just how much the ASA has changed since its first decade. If anyone in this photograph accepted evolution, I cannot tell you his name. On the other hand, we find three of the ten men who left the ASA in 1963 to form the Creation Research Society: Presbyterian biblical scholar R. Laird Harris, the tall man in the dark suit on the front row; geneticist William J. Tinkle, behind Everest in the upper left corner; and Calvin College biologist Edwin J. Monsma, four places to the right of Tinkle. Standing next to Everest is Goshen College astrophysicist H. Harold Hartzler, whose pacifist temperament and beliefs would help hold competing ASA factions together in coming years. Photograph courtesy of the ASA.


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