Science in Christian Perspective



Twenty Years with the 
American Scientific Affiliation*


From: JASA 13 (December 1961):

The events and circumstances leading up to the founding of the American Scientific Affiliation have been well presented by Dr. F. Alton Everest in his paper entitled: "The American Scientific AffiliationThe First Decade," which appeared in The journal of the American Scientific Affiliation Vol. 3, No. 3, September, 1951. It is neither necessary nor advisable to repeat this story in detail at this time. However, a brief outline of these events will, perhaps, be of value as a background for the story to follow.

The concept of an organization of Christian men of science started as a wistful dream of Dr. Irwin A. Moon of the Extension Department of the Moody Bible Institute, later Director of the Moody Institute of Science. At the time in question, the period leading up to 1941, Mr. Moon was personally traveling throughout the country with a truck-load of scientific equipment giving his series of lectures and demonstrations known as "Sermons from Science." While he presented these sermons with their experimental demonstrations in the great metropolitan centers, he also sought opportunities to present them on college and university campuses. The students found these novel sermons from science to be very interesting and stimulating, and, at the conclusions of these presentations, they frequently flocked around Mr. Moon for a period of questions and discussions. Many of these students were scarcely able to cope with the pervading materialistic philosophy of collegiate science and were eager for reassurance that modern scientific knowledge does not rule out faith.

Mr. Moon, of course, knew that competence in science and Christian faith were perfectly compatible.
He also knew that there were a number of reputable men of science who were devout Christians; but:-how
many were there, who were they, where were they
? Such considerations and questions doubtless led to the
concept of the desirability of an organization of Chris tian men of science; men representing all branches of
science brought together by the unifying factor of a common Christian faith. He felt that the very existence
of such an organization would be a source of reassur ance to perplexed and confused students.

He discussed his concept of a distinctively Christian organization of qualified scientists with Dr. Houghton

*Paper presented at the Sixteenth Annual Convention of the American Scientific Affiliation held at Houghton, New York, August, 1961.

**Dr. Cowperthwaite is Chief Engineer with the Thomson Wire Company of Boston, Massachusetts.

who at that time was president of the Moody Bible Institute. Dr. Houghton apparently concurred in the desirability and value of such a group and plans began to be formulated to bring together a nucleous of selected men who could be expected to be sympathetic to the idea and interested in its realization.

The first contact in the interests of the proposed group was made in November of 1940 with Prof. F. Alton Everest of Oregon State College. In the months that followed, Prof. Everest was able to make some preliminary investigations into organizational forms and procedures in preparation for the projected meeting of a representative group of Christian men of science to be convened in the near future. Invitations to this meeting were sent out by Dr. Houghton in June of the following year, 1941. The text of the letter of invitation has subsequently been published in Dr. Wilbur M i Smith's biography of Dr. Will H. Houghton entitled "A Watchman on the Wall" published by Wm. B. Eerdman's Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1951. Dr. Smith has aptly called this letter "The Birth Certificate of the American Scientific Affiliation." The letter contained an invitation to come to Chicago, with expenses paid, for the period of September 2 to 5, 1941, in order to explore the possibility and desirability of forming an organization of Christian men of science. The particular time designated for the meeting was chosen to coincide with Mr. Moon's presentation of his series of sermons from science at the Moody Memorial Church so that he would be in Chicago and able to meet with the group and impart his vision of opportunities and services to them. However, the letter was very explicit that neither the Moody Bible Institute nor the persons sponsoring the invitation had any desire to dominate the group or define its sphere. The group was to be entirely free to make its own plans. These assurances of freedom from pressure or direction were literally adhered to.

The number of letters of invitation that were sent out is not known. However, five men accepted the invitations and came to Chicago in the interests of forming a new organization of Christian men of science. Those who responded and met together were: F. Alton Everest, Peter W. Stoner, Russell D. Sturgis, John P. VanHaitsma, and Irving A. Cowperthwaite. From time to time Mr. Moon, Dr. Houghton, and Mr. H. Coleman Crowell, Vice-President of the Moody Bible Institute, conferred with the group, but, true to the stipulation of the letter of invitation, no effort was made to dominate or give direction to the group.

At this organizing meeting held twenty years ago, those participating could recognize a number of needs that could be met by an organization of Christian men of science and, also, a number of unique services that such a group could perform.

The objectives visualized for the proposed organization may be subdivided under the headings of services to the anticipated membership and services to others outside of the membership. The latter may be further subdivided into a deep concern for the spiritual welfare of Christian students in secular colleges and universities, and into services that the organization could render to pastors, evangelists, writers, and other Christian workers.

In considering the needs of Christian men of science scattered throughout our country, and beyond our borders, it was felt that a distinctively Christian-oriented organization had much to offer. There were already an abundance of technical and scientific societies operating within the different fields of scientific disciplines. These, however, were, and still are, largely dominated by a materialistic philosophy of science. It seemed that there must be many Christians on the faculties of colleges and universities, on the staffs of research organizations, in industrial laboratories, or in private practice who yearned for Christian fellowship with others in similar or comparable fields of work. There was no thought that the proposed organization would supplant the established technical and scientific societies in the work and loyalty of the anticipated members. Such societies are good and valuable and are important to all scientists, Christian and non-Christian alike. However, it was felt that such societies could profitably be supplemented by a new society presenting a Christian philosophy of science where Christian men of science could meet in an atmosphere of worship and fellowship in Christ.

Let us now consider the services which the proposed organization could render to others outside of the membership. From the very beginning, there was a deep concern for the plight of Christian students. It was known that many such students were shocked and bewildered when exposed to college level courses of science that were presented from a strictly materialistic point of view, There was also the distressing knowledge that many were unable to cope with the situation and lost their Christian faith. As a result of this concern, the very first major project considered for the proposed organization was the publishing of a students' handbook presenting a Christian philosophy of science and a Christian interpretation of each of the various fields of science. Then, too, it was felt that the very existence of an organization of Christian men of science, the mere fact that there were enough such men to organize for a united testimony, would comfort and encourage such wavering students. And, finally, it was thought that the group could strengthen and uphold such Christian teachers as it might be the good fortune of the students to have.

Under the heading of services to pastors, evangelists, writers, and other Christian workers, programs of publications and editorial services were visualized. It was anticipated that members of the proposed organization would be encouraged to prepare scientifically sound.and accurate papers in the field of the harmony of science and the Scriptures for publication in the several Christian periodicals where they could be read and be available to these Christian workers. In addition, it was thought that the time would come when the group would be able to issue its own publications.

There appeared to be a wide sphere of service in the field of editorial assistance. Many Christian speakers and writers at that time liked to use illustrations from the realm of science, but, unfortunately, their illustrations were not always technically accurate. In many cases the impact of an excellent message or publication was lost on some wise student who detected a relatively trivial error in a scientific illustration. It was felt that an organization of dedicated Christian men of science could offer their services to such speakers and writers and work with them to eliminate the technical errors that could alienate some smart listeners or readers. The group could be anticipated to have specialists in all fields to whom the various problems could be submitted for editing.

Also, it was felt that the organization could compile a list of dedicated Christian speakers who were specialists in the different fields of science. The projected list was expected to have the names of suitable speakers located in the various sections of the country, who would be available and willing to assist pastors, evangelists, and other Christian workers in their campaigns.

All of these and other! similar considerations lead the five who participated in the preliminary meeting in Chicago to conclude that there was a real need for an organization of Christian men of science and that such an organization should be formed. Then there was the problem of a suitable name for the group. After many suggestions and much discussion, the name American Scientific Affiliation was selected. The pertinence of the chosen name has been questioned from time to time, so it might be well to explain that it has no subtle or mysterious significance. It was simply selected in an effort to formulate a name that would be brief, euphonious, and distinctive.

Then followed such routine, but tedious, organizational activities as the preparation and adoption of a constitution and set of by-laws and election of the first officers. F. Alton Everest was elected as the first president and I. A. Cowperthwaite the first secretarytreasurer and the new-born organization was in business. Subsequently, the American Scientific Affiliation was incorporated as a non-profit organization under the laws of the state of California.

The growth of the ASA has probably followed a typical pattern characterized by a rate of growth that was quite slow at first, but which built up at an accelerating rate as the years passed and the organization became bigger and more widely known. To begin with, there were only five members in 1941, and, of these five, one had to withdraw during the first year because of health.

From many points of view, the Affiliation was launched at a most inopportune moment. It was organized in early September 1941, and precisely three months later, on December 7, 1941, the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor and we were involved in World War IL Immediately, everybody was busy and preoccupied with the war effort in one way or another and wartime restrictions soon made civilian travel virtually impossible.

However, "God in o v e s in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform." While civilian travel was virtually impossible as previously stated, our president, F. Alton Everest, was not only able, but was actually forced to do considerable traveling all over the United States in the interests of his wartime work. Everywhere he went, he found time to seek out Christian men of science to whom he told the story of ASA and its vision of Christian service. Interested men were invited to join the new organization. This was a period of slow, but sound, growth.

As the number of members increased, there were more to tell the story to others and invite them to join. So the rate of growth increased rapidly. This growth is illustrated by the following figures:

                              Growth of ASA
Year                          No. of members

The war effort, which bore so heavily on scientific personnel and which made unessential travel so difficult, made annual meetings of the newly organized ASA impractical for the duration. Annual meetings of the organization had been an important part of the plans formulated by the founders. However, circumstances made such meetings out of the question for several years. In retrospect, perhaps it was just as well that circumstances prevented the holding of annual meetings in the early years until the membership had built up to a point that made support of such meetings possible. Meetings in the first few years might have been discouragingly weak.

However, the war finally came to an end and there was a relaxation of the tremendously engrossing war effort and the strain upon transportation was eased so that travel was again feasible. Therefore, the original plans for annual meetings could at last be carried out and the first such meeting was scheduled to be held at Wheaton College, August 28, 29, and 30, 1946. It was not a big meeting numerically, but it was intellectually stimulating and pervaded by a fine spirit of Christian fellowship. The annual meetings of the ASA were off to an auspicious start and they have been held yearly from that time on.

It would be tedious to review each of the succeeding annual conventions in this brief historical sketch and it is doubtful if any useful purpose would be served by such a review. Therefore, only trends in the developing pattern of the conventions will be noted.

From the very beginning, the meetings have been open to interested visitors. Many such visitors found the program, fellowship, and objectives of the organization to be attractive and became members. Also, it has been the practice from the start to have at least one evening session to which the general public is invited. These open public meetings were designed to give an inspirational Christian message with a scientific orientation, using either a suitable speaker or a Moody Science Film. These meetings served to get the ASA and its objectives more widely known among the Christian public.

The technical sessions of the early conventions were largely made up of more or less random papers. As the organization grew and more talent was available for program planning, a trend toward grouping of papers into symposia in specific fields developed. This trend went full course in the sixteenth annual convention in 1961 when the entire convention was given over to the study of a single field: "The Christian's Responsibility toward the Increasing Population."

Another distinctive development in convention programs involves field trips. The programs of the first two annual meetings consisted entirely in the presentation and discussion of papers. However, at the third convention held September 1-3, 1948, at Calvin College, there was the move in the direction of a field trip as a part of the convention program. This first scheduled trip was a visit to the Christian Psychopathic Hospital operated by the Christian Reformed Church. The following year at the convention held at The Bible Institute of Los Angeles the trend to field trips came to full flower with trips to Mt. Wilson, Mt. Palomar, LaBrea Tar Pits, and the Los Angeles County Museum. Following this impressive start, subsequent meetings have featured many notable field trips conducted by skilled guides that have been enriching experiences.

Through the y e a r s, a pattern has emerged in the matter of the geographical location of the annual conventions. It has become customary to have the meetings in the mid-west on alternate years. Then on one of the odd years the meeting would be located in the west followed by an eastern meeting two years later. Therefore, in a four year cycle, there would be a meeting in the n-~d-west, followed by one in the far-west, then another in the mid-west, completing the cycle with one in the east. There have been exceptions, but, in general, this pattern is followed.

The annual conventions are a very important activity of the Affiliation. It is at these meetings that members get to know each other. They afford a wonderful opportunity for Christian men of science from many scattered points to become acquainted and enjoy fellowship in Christ. Also at t h e s e meetings members present papers embodying years of mature meditation in the field of science and the Scriptures that are both stimulating and inspiring.

However, many members do not attend these conventions and thus miss the very considerable benefits available. To partially remedy this situation, a number of local sections have been formed where members in a given area can meet periodically for fellowship, presentation of papers, and discussion. This is a very important development that should be encouraged and enlarged.

In addition to the meetings, both annual and local, another very important activity of the Affiliation is in the field of publications. These publications may be conveniently divided into two groups: those primarily directed to readers outside of the membership, and those primarily for the members.

The first group of publications aimed at a broad market includes the books, tracts, and monographs produced by the ASA. As mentioned earlier in this review, the very first project accepted by the group at its organ zation was the preparation of a students' handbook written at college level and presenting a Christian philosophy of science and a Christian interpretation of each of the various fields of science. This p r o j e c t was directed by Dr. Everest who assigned the different chapters to suitable authors and acted as editor. After several years of work in extremely difficult times, the handbook appeared in 1948 under the title of "Modern Science and Christian Faith." This book has gone through two editions and many printings and a third edition is under consideration.

In 1959 the Affiliation published a second book entitled: Evolution and Christian Thought Today. This volume was planned to give a Christian interpretation of the impact of the theory of evolution on science and on Christian thought. It was planned for publication in 1959, on the 100th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's The Origin of Species. As in the case of the former book, this was a cooperative project. In this case, Dr. Mixter was appointed as director and editorin-chief to coordinate and expedite the work. Authors were selected for the various chapters and several years of writing and editing followed before the volume was finally published on the centenary of Darwin's work.

It represents a solid contribution by ASA in a highly controversial and emotionally charged field.

Other publications of ASA for wide distribution include three monographs and a tract. The monographs are as follows: No. 1, "Christian Theism and the Empirical Sciences" by Cornelius Jaarsma; No. 2, "Creation and Evolution" by Russell L. Mixter; and No. 3, "The Eye as an Optical Instrument" by Frank Allen. The tract referred to above is entitled: "Ten Scientists Look at Life" and was edited by Alfred Eckert.

The second group of publications of the Affifflation was described as publications aimed primarily at the membership, although it is to be hoped that their circulation and influence extends far beyond such limitations. The first item of this group, in fact the very first piece put out by the Affiliation, was entitled "American Scientific Affiliation" and was a pamphlet prepared for members to distribute to prospects. It described the origin and aims of the organization and invited qualified and interested persons to join. After several reissues, this pamphlet has recently been completely rewritten and modernized and is currently available in an attractive up-to-date form for the same old purpose of making the organization known to prospective members.

Very early in the history of the Affiliation it was realized that a periodical was needed to keep the scattered membership informed and to maintain their interest. This posed a serious problem. The membership was small and needed the unifying influence of a periodical, but a periodical needs a large membership for support. However, in time a start was made and from simple beginnings the journal as it is known today was d6veloped. In 1948, two mimeographed publications were issued and distributed to the membership; one was entitled "A Symposium on the Age of the Earth," and the other "The Yearbook of American Scientific Affiliation." The following year, 1949, saw the beginning of regular publication with the appearance of three numbers of "The American Scientific Affiliation Bulletin." The next year, 1950, the name of the publication was changed to journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, the name which is still used. Four numbers were issued in 1950 and it has appeared quarterly since that time. The journal for the years 1950 and 1951 appeared in the form of mimeographed sheets bound into printed covers. Beginning in 1952, the journal was printed in essentially the present form. The content and purpose of the journal are too well known to readers of this review to require explanation at this time.

The most recent publication of the ASA for distribution to its membership is the "News" edited by F. Alton Everest. This delightfully written news sheet is justly popular with the membership.

The organizational structure of the Affiliation has gone through a number of changes d u r i n g the past twenty years. In 1941 there were only five members and, by a strange coincidence, it was decided that the a airs of the Affiliation should be managed by an executive council of five members. The original constitution of the Affiliation provides that a member was to be elected to the executive council each year for a term of five years. This meant that the original five members had to establish an order of retirement from the council in order to make room for newly elected members while maintaining a council of five members. The order of retirement was determined by drawing lots with the following results: John P. VanHaitsma to retire in 1942, Irving A. Cowperthwaite in 1943, Russell D. Sturgis in 1944, Peter W. Stoner in 1945, and F. Alton Everest in 1946.

The constitution also specified that the officers of the Affiliation should be elected annually by the members of the executive council from their own ranks. Traditionally, members of the council serve only one term, although there is no constitutional barrier to more than one term. This tradition has been broken three times in the cases of three members who were serving the Affifliation with unusual dedication and devotion. These three were F. Alton Everest who served on the council from 1941 to 1951, Russell L. Mixter from 1944 to 1954, and H. Harold Hartzler from 1950 to 1960.

At first there was only one class of membership in the Affiliation. However, about 1950 a new constitution was adopted with two classes of members: Members and Fellows. According to this second constitution, only fellows could vote in the election of council members. Another provision of this constitution was two doctrinal statements: a briefer statement to be subscribed to by the members, and a fuller statement to be subscribed to by the fellows. The fuller statement was in eight parts and was quite long (389 words) and involved. It is difficult to write such a long and involved doctrinal statement that will satisfy everybody, and so it is not surprising that this statement came under considerable criticism. Also, the members showed signs of dissatisfaction with their disenfranchisement.

These dissatisfactions finally led to the adoption of still a third constitution in 1959. This third constitution made provision for four classes of membership: Honorary Fellow, Fellow, Member, and Associate. The specific points of dissatisfaction with the second constitution were removed: voting was put in the hands of Members and Fellows, and a single brief doctrinal statement was formulated to which all classes of members must subscribe. This third constitution is currently in effect and can readily be consulted for details so that no further discussion is warranted in this review.

Now at the Affiliation's twentieth anniversary, it might be an appropriate time to take stock and try to determine to what extent the dreams of twenty years ago have been realized. In the early part of this historical review, the visualized objectives were divided for purposes of convenience into two parts: services to members, and services to others outside of the membership.

There is ample basis for claiming that the ASA has developed a good program of services to its members. However, even a good program requires participation before it can be effective in the case of an individual member. Those who have participated by attending annual and local meetings have had their lives enriched by friendships with choice Christian men in the various fields of science. Friendships which, but for ASA, probably would never have been made. In this connection, a quotation from Dr. Everest's paper of ten years ago would be in order: "One of the greatest experiences in the life of the writer has been the thrill of working side by side with men of the ASA - men whose faith has been tried in the crucible of spiritually sterile scientific criticism, men who have devoted their lives to the study of God's handiwork in nature and who see there the infinite resources of the One in Whom we live and move and have our being." Many in ASA can say a hearty amen to t h e s e sentiments. Those who have attended meetings and made friendships with the members, then find pleasant reminders of personal friends in the columns of the journal and the News.

How well the ASA has achieved its objectives of service to others is more difficult to evaluate. The students' handbook, the first major project of the ASA, was published as soon as practicable and has enjoyed a substantial sale. Many teachers have been encouraged and strengthened through fellowship in the ASA. How big an impact this has had upon students cannot be known. However, many encouraging reports have been received which indicate that the work has been meaningful and worthwhile.

The objective of encouraging members to write for the various religious periodicals has evidently been fruitful as is apparent from the number of articles that have appeared and continue to appear in these periodicals.

Many publishers and authors have gratefully availed themselves of the editorial and reviewing services of the Affiliation.

In conclusion, it may be stated that the Affiliation has made progress in its fields of Christian services, but the work is never completed. Perhaps the next twenty years can be faced in the spirit of Philippians 3:12-14: "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended, but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."