Science in Christian Perspective



Report On 1957 A.S.A, - E. T.S. Joint Meeting*

From JASA 9 (December 1957): 3-5.

On June 21 to 24 of 1955 there was initiated at Winona Lake, Indiana, what now promises to be a continuing series of joint conferences between members of the American Scientific Affiliation and the Evangelical Theological Society. Being very much the same in doctrinal beliefs, and having a great area of overlapping interests and common problems, and needing each other for a full and profitable discussion of these problems, it was believed that only in joint session, and in the use of a continuing liaison between the two societies, could such problems be efficiently treated.

The initial meeting was designed with the idea of sticking to fundamentals of methodology and basic approach. It was realized by all concerned that the theologians needed to teach the scientists some particulars about the scientific approach to scriptural analysis and interpretation just as much as they were in need, themselves, of instruction by the scientists on scientific particulars and data whose acceptance is virtually demanded, but about which many theologians still held honest reservations.

The results of that first joint convention, which in many respects constitute the most important single set of papers ever assembled in connection with the A. S. A., are published in Vol. 7, No. 3 of the Journal. (Sept. 1955)

On June 12-14, 19,57, the second joint meeting of the A. S. A. and E. T. S. was held at Wheaton College. (Since all members undoubtedly received a copy of the program, it will not be necessary for me to review its contents at this time.) This report will be confined to matters of summary and evaluation which, with the aid of a selected representation of members have been accumulated for the dual purpose of reporting to those who could not attend, and of guiding our preparation for a third joint session presumably to be held in June of 1959.

One of the provisions made at the first joint session was for continuing liaison between the two societies on matters of common interest and relevance in order to obviate the necessity of succeeding joint sessions going back unnecessarily over the same ground. Thus it is important for the consideration of future plans, to examine this year's joint session in light of the question, "Did the second joint session proceed from methodological base lines established at the first session, without returning unnecessarily to debates of only limited or secondary joint concern?"

*Presented at the _12th annual convention of the A.S.A., Gordon College, Aug. 27 29, 1957

In spite of the excellent subject continuity envisaged by the planning committees, and embodied in the program, an affirmative answer to this question cannot be given without reservation. It was felt by some that the historical surveys of the achievements of each society might have been of. more mutual interest if they had been devoted to a consideration of the function of joint conferences in achieving the purposes of each. Not that we were wasting each others' time, but that for joint conference fare the subject could have been oriented more profitably.

The presentation of specific problem areas, in some cases, tended to take too much for granted on the part of the opposite society. This is to be tolerated within science or within theology where frontiers of research and theory must be pushed; but it is fatal to productive joint discussion of problems in areas whose implications for various fields demand a level of presentation somewhat lower than otherwise. For example, with reference to the Wednesday evening session, intended as theological orientation for scientists, it was too technical for some. The discussion made it clear that many scientists did not understand the orthodox view, let alone the neo-orthodox.

One speaker voiced a caution, with reference to the question of building one meeting upon the progress of the last, that unless each member determines to operate in terms of these methodological guide posts, and base future efforts upon them, we may as well have a merry free-for-all merely for the fun (and who will deny that it is fun) of the intellectual interchange of ideas - - but get nowhere. One correspondent wrote me along this line, as follows:

"A round robin which goes from one end of the sciences to the other, and front the influences of verb tenses in Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic upon eschatological questions to epistemological irregularities of phenomenology may show our diversity but what does one take home from such an intellectual roller coaster?"l (This was not with specific reference to any one session at this year's joint meeting but only in considering the general topic of what is the best type of program to plan.)

At this year's joint meeting there was certainly no lack of profit and stimulation and real benefit from the interchange of ideas and discussion of common problems, despite certain weaknesses which this report is attempting to point out. One of the greatest values for many was in the very continuation of building methodological sign-posts which constituted the objectives of the first joint session. Dr. Charles F. Pfeiffer delivered an admirably conceived set of postulates which should be restudied by every one of us and adopted into our future thinking if they are not there already.

Among other highlights was the degree of focus obtained upon the question of "What is evidence?" Complete agreement was not achieved, (and I think we all agree that complete agreement is not a primary objective,) but some clear things were said and profitable cross-fertilization of ideas was achieved.

Still another highlight was the "Block-buster" dropped by Douglas Block who presented an exceptionally provocative and suggestive defense of a world-wide Deluge supported not by the so-called "Deluge Geology" arguments with which our society has long since become familiar, but from the data of so-called "ages" or uniformitarian geology, leaving some of us, who had supported a limited flood, supposedly from the same geological premises, looking at each other, completely inundated!

Summing up, then, for the consideration of future joint meetings with the E. T. S. there have been precipitated since the last meeting several specific proposals which can be profitably brought to the attention of both bodies at this time, at least in tentative or provisional form:

1. That subjects for discussion should be handled by 2, 3, or 4 specialists rather than necessarily by individuals.

We need a Christian philosophy of man, with help from anthropologist, psychologist, sociologist, pbilosopher and Biblical exegete. Can we bring these minds together? Psychology and Anatomy of Religious Experience in terms of psychology, anthropology, sociology, etc. Philosophy of Science: concept of natural law, its relevance in the social sciences, scientific method, problems of induction, and causation, etc. The bearing of all this on theistic proofs, miracles, providence, and limited evolution, etc.2

Let four people present their views if the topic cuts across both the A.S.A. and E.T.S. fields, or two people if the topic is in the A.S.A. or E.T.S. area. Be sure that each person will present different viewpoints. If this is done, I cannot see how one could avoid a good discussion. I personally think that the people who attend these societies do not come just to be lectured at, or just to make new personal friends and contacts, but they come to learn through group participation.3

I had the impression that more was accomplished when different aspects of a single subject were discussed from different points of view rather than where isolated papers were presented. These became more specialized and of less interest to those in fields other than that of the writer of the paper.4

2. Have fewer papers, and fewer subjects per hour and more time for discussion.

If I go to a meeting and see a whole series of papers listed as being given, I might have a lot to ask a fellow reading a paper in the areas of Hermeneutics, Biblical Theology, Interpretation, etc., but I wouldn't say a thing, since if any discussion develops we would never finish the papers. The fear that there will be no discussion must be the cause of the three-papers-per-h our agendas of many meetings.5

3. Maintain a standing liaison committee of three from each society with one from each society replaced every two years, whose chief responsibility would be (a) the planning of the agenda for the joint sessions; a specific program committee being selected to implement and fill out the over-all agenda handed down from the liaison committee; (b) to act as a publications committee, to see the proceedings of joint sessions through publication, unless the editorial committees of the publications of the two societies would be in a better position to implement this; (c) to entertain the possibility of inviting other bodies (such as the Christian Medical Assn.) into joint session, and even representation on the liaison committee for the planning of the agenda of such a joint session.

4. That those in charge of each and every meeting of the main bodies and regional groups of both societies make it a matter of regular business to report to the liaison committee their recommendations of any subject or problem, growing out of local discussions, which the), deem of sufficient value for extension into the agenda of a future joint session.

5. That the editorial committee of the journal solicit through the liaison committee, some opinion, comment, or statement f rom the E. T. S. on the doctrinal or theological implications of key articles submitted for publication, when, in the opinion of the editorial committee, such accompanying information is warranted.

6. That we constantly remain aware of the importance of maintaining a significant amount of emphasis in future joint sessions upon simple matters of effective communication of ideas through the utmost care in matters of terminology and methods of approach.

Do we understand each other's terms' I understand some A.S.A. people use the terms "vitalism", "creative evolution", "emergent evolution", etc. These are technical philosophical views-all of them essentially naturalistic. Likewise re: "image of God", "Soul", etc. Theologians need help in such concepts as "transculturation", "indeterminism", "quantum theory", well as to be kept up to date on cosmology, bio chemistry (is life manufacturable?), psych, etc.6

7. That some attention be given to the possibility of examining for example, Dr. Pfeiffer's paper of this years meeting, and Dr. Michelsen's and others of the first joint meeting, specifically for the purpose of adopting certain elements officially as guiding methodolgies and principles, upon which we could all agree, for the planning of future investigation, con vention fare, and publication.

It seems that over the years, time has been wasted simply because we have, on occasion, failed to take into account work that has already been done. it is not that each one must agree necessarily with all previous statements on a subject in order to do a paper on it; but he should be able to make the gains of others his own, methodologically, if not always possible in data and theory, so that the calibre of A. S. A. publications and programs alike break new ground, gain increasing stature, and, with continuing collaboration with the E. T. S. develop a consistent, yet dynamic frame of reference for its philosophy of science which will enable the discussion of any specific subject to be adequate and expandable without unnecessary repetition.


1. Dr. Berkeley Michelsen, personal communication.
2, Dr. Arthur Holmes, personal communication. 
3. Dr. Berkeley Michelsen 
4. Mr. Douglas Block, personal communication.
5. Dr. Berkeley Michelsen
6. Dr. Arthur Holmes