Academic journal article Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith

1941-2016: The American Scientific Affiliation at 75

Academic journal article Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith

1941-2016: The American Scientific Affiliation at 75

Article excerpt

The year 2016 marks the American Scientific Affiliation's seventy-fifth anniversary. Such milestones provide opportunities to reflect on one's heritage, assess the current state of affairs, and look to what lies ahead. This essay offers a reflection, a brief reminder of the issues facing the organization at the beginning, at the twenty-fifth, and at the fiftieth anniversaries.

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The ASA at the Beginning

The American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) was founded in Chicago in September 1941 when five evangelical scientists met to discuss the formation of a "society for the correlation of science and the Bible." (1) The meeting came at the invitation of William H. Houghton (1887-1947), president of Moody Bible Institute, and was the result of a friendship he had developed with F. Alton Everest (1909-2005) and Irwin A. Moon (1907-1986).

Though Houghton issued the call, it was Moon, a former MBI student and scientifically minded pastor and preacher gaining attention for his spectacular "Sermons from Science," who proposed the formation of an association of evangelical scientists. His interactions with students through his national preaching tours made him keenly aware of how science both captured the imagination and challenged the faith of Christian youth. By 1940, he, Houghton, and Everest, a Baptist electrical engineer at Oregon State College who would become the leader of the young ASA, determined that a group of Bible-believing scientists could do much to buttress the faith of Christian students and help ministers address the growing scientific questions they faced.

The invitations were sent in June. Five men answered the call: Everest, biologist John P. Van Haitsma (1884-1965), mathematician Peter W. Stoner (1888-1980), chemist Russell D. Sturgis (1897-1969), and chemist Irving A. Cowperthwaite (1904-1999). This group would never meet again, but the week they spent together in the early fall of 1941 laid the groundwork for a renewed effort to reconcile science and Christian faith. (2)

The founding of the ASA marks a reawakening of the evangelical engagement with science in the United States, an engagement that was at its nadir in 1940. For the majority of their history, evangelicals could claim a robust and diverse relationship with science. Since the time of John Wesley (1703-1791) and George Whitefield (1714-1770), they variously promoted, dismissed, advanced, challenged, advocated for, and benefited from developments in science and the scientific mindset. Indeed, for most of this period, science was just as often considered a friend of Christianity as it was a foe.

Yet, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this tradition was overshadowed by a rejection of scientific orthodoxy that seemed to define evangelical views. Darwin's theory of evolution is commonly seen as the catalyst for this change, but it was only one cause of increased tensions. Higher criticism, with its challenge of traditional views of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith scripture, seemed equally threatening, if not more so. Similarly, the twentieth-century development of the social sciences, with their examination and reassessment of the sources of religious faith and experience, brought challenges that for some dwarfed the threat of Darwinism. The result was a feeling that modern science had become defined by theories that undermined biblical faith; by the 1920s, an antiscience, especially antievolutionary, movement was sweeping through many parts of the nation.

Science, historians have shown, was not the only or even the most crucial cause of this reaction. The antievolution crusades of the 1920s were as much a response to social changes and debates over national identity as they were about evolution. (3) Nevertheless, religious rhetoric that pitted science against Christianity or described Darwinism as the first step on the path to atheism prompted a popular resistance to the scientific mainstream that was unprecedented within the evangelical faith. …

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