Science in Christian Perspective
The A.S.A. History and Purposes*
H. Harold Hartzler,
Goshen College, President of the A.SA.
From: JASA 7
(September 1955): 3-5.
*Transcribed from a recording made of the address.
Christian friends, it is a great treat to meet in this joint meeting. Those of us who have been active in the affairs of the American Scientific Affiliation have looked forward with anticipation for more than a year to
this meeting, and I am very happy to, see you people here this afternoon as evidence of your interest in the work of these two organizations. I really think we are on pretty common -round. The Scripture which was read I thought was very appropriate for an opening how that God's work and God's Word corroborate each other, how wonderfully they correspond. Even though. in days gone by, some men have found fault, have disparaged the Word of God, have said the facts of science do not check with the Word of God, yet we as believing Christians thoroughly repudiate such pronouncements, for the more we study science and the more we study the Word, the more we can see beautiful confirmation one of the other.
This afternoon I am asked to speak of the history and purpose of the American Scientific Affiliation. Speaking to this mixed group, of course I must start from "scratch." In Chicago, in September of 1941, a meeting was called to consider this problem which college students have, of going to college as Christians and finding there teachers who do not believe the Bible and who, in many cases, undermine their Christian faith. This problem was particularly brought to the attention of some people by those people who had been connected with Semons from Science. Probably you all know of Irwin Moon and his work. F. Alton Everest, now of our own organization, was asked by Irwin Moon in 1940 to investigate some means whereby this problem could be attacked. Mr. Everest at that time was Professor of Engineering at Oregon State and he did some investigating that year preparatory to forming such an organization. This was rather preliminary. Nothing was done until 1941 when a letter went out early in the year from the then president of Moody Bible Institute, Dr. Houghton, who suggested in that letter to a number of people who were interested in science, who were convinced Christians, that it might be possible for them to gather together in Chicago in September, to consider this matter. So five people met in Chicago. I would like to honor them by announcing their names and their connections. To me they are the fathers of this organization.
The first one I'd like to mention is Dr. Irving Cowperthwaite, then Instructor in Chemistry at Columbia University, now chief engineer of Thompson Wire Company, Boston, Massachusetts, a very devout Christian. Dr. Cowperthwaite has attended every national convention of the A.S.A., starting in 1946 at Wheaton College.The next person I'd like to mention is John P. van Haitsma of Calvin College, Professor of Biological Science. Now before I joined the organization in 1944, Dr. van Haitzma was already to the advanced age where he did not attend the meetings, and so even though we met at Calvin College in 1948, 1 did not get to know him. Next is Dr. Russell Sturgis' of Ursinus College, Collegeville, Pennsylvania, Professor of Chemistry. I've never seen this man either; he's always stayed clear of our national conventions though he has been an active member of the A.S.A. Next is Mr. Peter Stoner, formerly Professor of Astronomy and Mathematics in Pasadena City College and now at Westmont College in California. He's been an active member of our organization all these years. Finally, and probably most important to this whole organization, is F. Alton Everest, Associate Director of Moody Institute of Science, Los Angeles, California. I'm quite sure everyone in this audience has seen their films. Alton is the technical man who is back of the scenes and many times he gets on the scene and you see him there. These are the men who met for f ive days in the city of Chicago. Their expenses were totally paid by an unknown friend of M.B.I. They were told to go ahead with this problemno strings attached-do as they felt they should do. So they considered this matter and came up with a number of ideas. One idea was that an organization should be formed, which was later named the American Scientific Affiliation. Since there were five of them, they organized with five charter members and they were the executive council. And so today, yet, we have five members of the executive council. I think perhaps it is time, since our membership is now over 650, that we increase the membership in the executive council. This matter has been under consideration by the executive council for some time, but as yet we still have five members. These five men essentially run the affairs of the Affiliation under the direction of what is now known as the Fellows. At the A.S.A. it was decided a number of years ago that perhaps it would be good to have two grades of membership, the Fellows and the Associates. The Fellows are those who have the running of the organization, that is, they can vote, hold office, and have all the rights and privileges of the organization. The Associates are disfranchised members, have no vote, and can't hold office. However, they can participate in the convention, read papers, participate as anyone else, receive all the literature except some confidential literature which we sometimes pass out to some of the Fellows. I assure you this confidential literature is not very extensive. For instance, we sometimes review books very critically and feel that perhaps it shouldn't go any farther than the Fellows. So that's been the decision. By the way, it should be pointed out that we do criticise each other very frankly and freely and I would hope that in a meeting like this we could have free, open discussion. That has been the history of the A.S.A., and one doesn't feel hurt because what you say has been challenged by the next speaker; you have a right to come back at him at any time and that's what makes for an interesting meeting.
The organization did not grow very rapidly, since Pearl Harbor came along with restrictions and no meetings for several years. Membership did not increase until 1943. By 1944 1 recall I received information concerning this organization and I believe we had a membership of 44 at that time. After 1944, the work increased; the main job at that time was writing the book which we now know as Modern Science and Christian Faith. At first we thought of it as P handbook for students who were troubled. Modern Science and Christian Faith has served a useful purpose; it has gone through two editions. This book has sold quite a number of thousand copies and I think it will continue to serve a good purpose. Not until 1946 did we have our first convention. Now you can't do very much work in an organization of this kind unless you have a meeting once in a while. So from 1941 to 1946 the main project was development of material for the book Modern Science and Christian Faith. I well recall that first convention at Wheaton College. As I look over this audience I find only Dr. McRae who was present at that meeting.
Well, that was an eye-opener to me. I was just thrilled through and through to find men of science throughout the country who were interested in God's Word. Well here at Wheaton College I found men from all over the country who were vitally interested in this. I was especially struck with the fact that each meeting was opened with prayer. A science meeting opened with prayer! I had attended many science meetings but this was the first of this type that I had had the privilege of attending. I met many friends at that Wheaton meeting that I have cherished through the years. It's a great inspiration to go to these annual meetings. I hav attended each of these meetings, as has Dr. Irving Cowperthwaite, Dr. Paul Bender and Dr. Philip Marquart. Beside our annual meetings, the A.S.A. has had some local meetings. The California group started this some years ago and it has been very active in holding three or four local meetings in the Los Angeles area, where they discuss problems pertinent to our work. New York City has had a group for several years. Taylor University and Marion College, combined several years ago but they have discontinued in recent years and in its place we've had the Illinois-Indiana section. We've had very fine fellowship through the years. We've grown to the stage now where we think we better divide and have an Illinois section and an Indiana section. Other sections are in prospect. Last spring during Easter vacation I had the privilege of making a trip in the interest of the work to the eastern part of the country where I met in Washington, Philadelphia, Harrisonburg, Virginia, Central New Jersey, New York City, Houghton College, New York in the interest of developing more local meetings. I think that out of that we shall have more local meetings. We feel that they are an important part of our work.
We have had a publication program for sonic years. In 1949 we started issuing a quarterly journal wherein we printed the principal papers presented at our conventions and other items of interest to our members. We now periodically publish book reviews, and also try to keep members in other fields informed as to what's going on in science. So we have short columns, on Astronomy, Archaeology, etc. To me, one of the side lights on an organization like this is the insight that it gives you into other groups of scientists. A man wrote to me recently from Texas, saying that the meeting of the A.S.A. is the only one in his experience where he gets to rub elbows with scientists in other fields and he feels that it's of very great value to him. I think so too.
Through the years we have grown numerically. In 1944 we had 44 members, by 1946 we had 70 members and by 1951 we had around 130 members. Now we have over 650 members. Our organization is continuing to grow. We are not interested in becoming especially large but some of us have felt through the years that if we wanted to have an impact on the scientific world, we need to have more than 100 or 150 members. We have attempted to become affiliated with A.A.A.S. but as yet that has not been constimmated. Some of our members are not certain that we should. Perhaps it is not the Lord's will that we should become affiliated with the A.A.A.S. but some of us feel that there would be decided advantages for such affiliation.
Now as to our purpose. WHY THE AMERICAN SCIENTIFIC AFFILIATION? One good brother stated that our title was inadequate, American Scientific Affiliation, because we are primarily a group of Christian men of scientists. And I think that by and large we have put the term Christian primary. Sometimes we debate among ourselves, are we a science organization or a Christian organization? We always come back with the statement that we're both. I rather like F. Alton Everest's statement to me this last year on this very point. He says, "After all, we happen to be a bunch of Christians who are working in different areas of science."
Well, what are we interested in-in banding together in this work? Probably our aims are broader than was envisaged by the founders, because, as I said, the founders thought of one main point and that was of helping college students who found difficulty when they went to colleges and universities. Particularly, I think they were interested in universities, the larger schools where a young man or young woman is thrown out in the world, as it were, on his own and needs some help. The A.S.A. thought they might be of some help to such.
Today, I feel our purposes are somewhat larger than that. A number of things might be mentioned as to the real reason for the existence for the A.S.A. First, it is a good thing to get together as we are today to have Christian fellowship. I assure you it is good for all of its, whether coming from a Christian school, a state university, from government agencies or from industrial concerns. It's sweet fellowship that we've had through the years. I think that is an aim or purpose though we do not usually think of that as a purpose. We are interested primarily, I think, in showing that men of science in this day and age can be good scientists in their own right and still be Bible-believing Christians. We would like to show the world that this is a reality, not just someone's theory, not an old fashioned idea that has been thrown away two or three hundred years ago but to show that in 1955 in the U.S.A. and in other countries of the world that there arc scientists who are Christians. It has often been stated that many scientists immediately give you tip when they learn that you are a Christian. "What can he amount to, he's a Christian, he's biased." We would like to set the record straight on this point and I think it is worth while for any man to do something in this area.
Today we're considering the big problem of a Christian philosophy of science. What is it? How does it affect our work? What are its implications? Our organization is in the throes just now of considering this great problem. We have been challenged by a number of our members to dig into this area of a Christian philosophy of science. Now more particularly we are interested in God's Word. In our opening session we had that wonderful Psalm 19 read before us, how God's Word and God's work check with each other. That is one of the the basic aims of the A.S.A., to show that there is no basic conflict. To be sure, conflicts have arisen from time to time, men have been disturbed, their faith has wavered because of a certain scientific discovery. But, upon closer study, we find a beautiful harmony. The A.S.A. is interested in continuing this study.
I should state here and now that the A.S.A. does not have any official policy on any scientific matter. After all, scientific theories come and go. They are seasonal. What is good science today may not be good science tomorrow. But we continue to believe that the Word of God is firmly established forever. We must be on our guard because many false cults have arisen, claiming the authority of the Word of God and so it takes very careful study and we are very thankful for men of the Evangelical Theological Society to help us in the problems involving God's Word. We need language scholars, we need theologians to help us in these areas. I'm very, very happy that we can have this joint meeting this week at Winona. I think it will be a step forward in the work of the A.S.A.
Now I would like to add a further word and for this I would like to use Scripture. I would like to read just a few verses from Matthew 13:3-9. What I would like to say this afternoon is that the A.S.A. is the organization which is attempting in our day among the scientists of the world to loosen up this stony ground, to get rid of some of these thorns, these stones, to prepare the ground for the seed, the Word of God. I am challenged by this thought that the scientists of the world do not accept God's Word because of so many objections which they have conjured up themselves or heard from others. But actually they do not know the Word themselves many times. So we hope that we can, by our literature, by our personal testimony, meeting person to person, by our national meetings, in a small way, at least, attempt this great task of making this ground in hearts of men fallow ground so when the seed is sown, the Word of God may find root, spring up, and bring forth life. After all, the A.S.A. is interested in the souls of men. We don't say in our literature that we are an evangelistic organization. In fact, some of our members go so far as to say that we really aren't. But I think at heart everyone is. What Christian isn't, if he is a sincere Christian. Naturally he wants to see others won to the Lord Jesus Christ and fundamentally that is our aim. If you want to deal with a man who is an unbeliever or one who has lost his faith, who is a doubter, one has to do something in preparing him before be is ready to receive the Word. We are hoping that we can do something in this great field of preparing the soil of the hearts of men for the Word of God so that then the minister or the personal worker or whoever it may be, may then lead that person to the Lord Jesus Christ. I think it is a great day when the A.S.A. and the E.T.S. can get together in this great task, to do our small part, in the great task of evangelizing the world.