Science in Christian Perspective
Progress of the American Scientific Affiliation in its service of providing a consistent foundation upon which the structures of science and Christian faith can be harmoniously built, has been remarkable. As the organization grows physically we should expect to see continuous development with the added talents of new members.
To ensure a common outlook in faith, the pioneers adopted a constitution embodying a lengthy doctrinal statement to which each aspirant to membership was asked to subscribe by written signature. Specific items concern the attitudes and stands to be taken toward the Bible, toward God, toward Christ, toward the Holy Spirit, and toward certain future events. (Under the present Constitution, applicants for Associate membership sign a somewhat abbreviated statement.) While it is probable that some signatures were written with some mental reservation, at present it seems that few, if any, has had any serious objection to the doctrines specifically mentioned.
Some reasons for a detailed doctrinal statement were:
(1) The preservation of a conservative Christian society was desirable. There are fundamental differences-differences that we consider decisive for the disposition of a human soul-between the doctrines of conservatives and liberals which, it was felt, should be delineated.
(2) Internal dissention was to be minimized. Progress would likely be hampered if all varieties of Christian though were included. While it is our duty to face fairly all real issues, it was felt, quite properly, that membership need not be accorded those we are convinced have fundamental beliefs not in agreement with the clearer aspects of scriptural doctrines.
(3) Fellowship with those of like persuasions was considered important.
Knowing our position to be a minority and unpopular one, it is a tremendous psychological advantage to be assured one has the support of a group on basic issues.
The feeling has been growing, however, that our Constitution, and particularly the doctrinal statement is a hindrance to the development we should be experiencing. This does not stem from disagreement with the three points above but from practical considerations. Briefly the objections are:
(1) The statement constitutes a barrier to our association as an organization with other groups. Recently, a group with a similar detailed doctrinal statement was refused on-campus meetings at a major university. Initially, permission was virtually granted even though it was known to be a fundamentalist Christian group. Before final action was taken the constitution was read to the committee, which then refused permission. Whether their objections were valid or not, an opportunity was lost..
(2) Prospective members refuse to join because commitment to a rigid set of beliefs throws doubt upon the freedom of pursuit and -open-mindedness considered essential for scientific research. It is difficult to be sure of some doctrines when even the fundamental nature of inspiration is still debated among conservatives.
A physicist who might join an organization of research physicists which required signing a statement that he believed Einstein's laws of relativity, Maxwell's electromagnetic theory, and Rutherford's picture of the atom, could hardly be expected to search for the truth wherever it may lead. He may be convinced of the validity of these laws, use them in his practice, and feel reasonably sure they will not be proven wrong, but that is quite a different thing than committing himself to such over his signature. In the A.S.A., we are in much the same position. We may feel assured that our basic doctrines are logical and sound in the light of all evidence available, yet we put ourselves in an untenable position scientifically. Probably most of us feel we are quite f ree to study our theology critically as well as we might our science. Yet in a legalistic sense we have signed away our freedom to do so on some points. And this seems to be, a justifiable criticism of our organization by scientists, in iew of our claim to be one in which all facts are to be faced.
(3) The stigma attached to being a "fundamentalist" often works to disadvantage in ones pursuits. That word in the mind of most people has become associated with so many weird and unscientific concepts that it should be shaken off. While we may protest that our beliefs and Constitution are not so regimented, the present doctrinal statement is usually interpreted as such. It is not a question of comprising ones faith but a question of practicality in the matter of being a Christian witness, that barriers are not built up unnecessarily.
(4) The Evangelical Theological Society has a one-sentence statement of faith which has been adequate.
(5) The Victoria Institute, founded in 1865, has remained quite conservative with only a very brief statement concerning its objects.
(6) Finally, it is pointed out, long doctrinal statements have failed to preserve the Biblical faith of some of the larger denominations. The question arises as to whether objections to the doctrinal statement in a scientific organization implies similar objections to signing a like statement in a church. A double standard of beliefs is an intolerable one, of course, and disbelief of any statement makes a hypocrite of one who professes he does believe such. However, convinced that the doctrinal statement is correct, commitment to it would be perfectly in order for the purposes of church membership. Repeating, it is not a question of doubting ones faith, but of ones scientific commitnient with regard to doctrine.
These are issues that have to be thought through with deliberation. The problem largely centers upon whether we are to be increasingly effective in the rapprochement of science and faith, and, more important, of scientists and vital personal Christian faith, or whether we are to be a closed group, studying our problems and publishing literature that will be read by Christians only.The President has appointed a committee, repre senting a good cross section of the convictions I n this matter. to study this problem. It behooves each one of us to consider it in deliberation and prayer. The Committee will undoubtedly be interested in your conclusions and reasons thereof.