Science in Christian Perspective



Claude E. Stipe
ASA President, 1976 
Department of Sociology and Anthropology 
Marquette University 
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53233


From: JASA 29 (March 1977): 1-4.

ASA officers and the editor of the journal ASA periodically receive letters alleging that the ASA has departed from its original position and purposes. The correspondence file at the national office contains statements such as:

The Old ASA is gone...Back in 1946 we were all Biblical and no one dared champion evolution.
If the ASA had remained true to the doctrines and principles on which it was founded, the Creation Research Society would never have been necessary.

The Journal ASA has published letters and articles containing similar statements, of which the following are examples:

Thus, in fifteen years we have seen develop within the AS.A. a spectrum of belief in evolution that would have shocked all of us at the inception of our organization (11:26-27, 1959).
Thousands of high school and college students are losing their Christian faith on the strength of what they are taught in biology, geology and related sciences. The ASA was founded to prevent this tragedy. I, personally, have been in the ASA almost from the start. I can see a gradual drift towards the "intellectually popular" concept of biological evolutionary theory. We are losing our purpose for being and are getting into great confusion. Most articles in the JASA are now on a variety of subjects that have little pertinence to our purpose for existence (15:67-68, 1963).
We remember the days when the A.S.A. was first organized. We were all against evolution then (15:100, 1963).

The implication of these and similar statements is that the ASA originally took a definite stand in favor of a given interpretation of the Scriptures and against the theory of evolution, and that it has since departed from that position. On the other hand, I have been assured by long-time members that these characterizations of the original position of the ASA are in error, and that the ASA has never taken a stand on controversial issues. I attempted to resolve the question to my own satisfaction by investigating Annual Meeting programs (which usually include abstracts of the papers), correspondence by ASA officers, statements by ASA officers and editors published in the Journal ASA, and two official publications of the ASA: Modern Science and Christian Faith (1950), and Evolution and Christian Thought Today (1959).

I want to make it clear that the question is not whether the majority of members at one time held to a given interpretation of the Scriptures, or whether there was almost unanimity of opinion against the acceptance of evolution. The crucial question is whether the ASA has ever taken an official position on controversial issues such as evolution.

Annual Meeting Programs

At the third annual convention in 1948 Laurence Kulp discussed "The Antiquity of Hominid Fossils," in which he stated that there is considerable scientific evidence that man-like creatures have been on earth for at least many tens of thousands of years. There must have been some interesting discussions, for in "Some Basic Presuppositions of Evolutionary Thinking," Edwin Monsma presented four presuppositions of evolutionists "which cannot he accepted by Christian men of science because they believe in the Bible as the inspired word of God."

In 1949 Kulp gave two papers. In "The Carbon 14 Dating Method" lie noted that Neanderthal Man is older than 25,000 years. In "Deluge Geology" he commented that it is unfortunate that flood geology has become the Christian view among fundamentalists because not only is it absurd to the educated nonChristian, but it gives apparent support to impossible interpretations of Genesis. It is interesting to note that Larry Kulp was elected to the Executive Council in 1948 after he had given at least one paper by which members could tell that he was not an anti-evolutionist. Furthermore, at the 1951 annual meeting a committee asked him to prepare a monograph on the age of the earth.

In 1950 Delbert Eggenberger discussed "Methods of Dating the Earth and the Universe," in which he concluded that several different methods of dating all point to a beginning on the order of several billion years ago, and that "the Scriptures themselves do not teach a short timescale."

In 1951 J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. in "Creation Days" held that the days in Genesis 1 were figurative, and were not necessarily of anything like approximately equal duration. J. H. Shrader in "A Conservative and Consistent View of Biblical Cosmology" argued that the Bible is "an expression of lofty monotheism and a unique insight into man's divine nature," and that the Scriptures should be taken as "the expression of many men in the frame of language and knowledge reference that was current to the respective seers."

Papers in 1957 included "Glaciation and WorldWide Changes in Climate" by Wallace Broeker, "The Formation of Living Organisms from Non-Living Systems" by Walter Ream, and "Radiocarbon Dating-A Tool in Fixing Chronology of the Last 50,000 years" by Edwin Olson.

These papers obviously constitute only a small percentage of those given over a ten year period. However, they certainly belie the claim that there was an official position on controversial issues during that period.

Statements in Correspondence by ASA Officers

Statements by officers in the early years of the ASA also support the conclusion that there was no official anti-evolution stance. In April 1944 Alton Everest (one of the founders of the ASA and its President for the first ten years) wrote to the Executive Council members that Peter Stoner had been given permission to include the following brief paragraph on the ASA in an article written for Moody Monthly:

The American Scientific Affiliation is an organization of scientific men with absolute faith in God and His Word. It has no pet theories to prove but stands ready and is anxious to contribute its time in supplying the necessary scientific information to the churches.

In June 1944 Marion Barnes (ASA Secretary-Treasurer) wrote to "Members and Friends of ASA':

There is a lack of unanimity in even the conservative circles of the evangelical church of today concerning many topics such as the reconstruction theory, the flood, etc. It is not the aim of the Affiliation to espouse any particular theory, but it seems pertinent, in view of the requests for aid from Bible Institutes and authors of Sunday School literature for the Affiliation to serve as a factfinding body and to conduct a survey of the situation . . . . It is felt that a clearer understanding of the whole situation would result, enabling individuals to make their own decisions.

In October 1950 Alton Everest wrote to Executive Council members concerning an individual who had publicly condemned the ASA for failing to take the flood geology position:

As I have emphasized in the past, my feeling is that the ASA is not serving its highest purpose when it promulgates some "standard" interpretation. It may be that most of the members may incline to one belief, but the opinion of the few dissenters is an extremely valuable check and stimulus. The majority has been wrong too many times in the past to make it safe to take any other course. We should examine all sides, and allow any conclusions drawn to be those of individuals. For these reasons, I am still in favor of hearing the deluge side fairly dealt with, in our journal, or in our meetings.

Harold Hartzler, therefore, was following the established precedent when he wrote in 1968 to a complaining ASA member:

The ASA has never taken a position on any scientific theory, contrary to what some may think . . . . We have never made a statement concerning scientific matters even though some think we should . . . . We as a group, do not believe in theistic evolution, neither do we believe in any other form of evolution. The whole problem [it] seems to me is of properly interpreting both scientific theory and the statements of Holy Scriptures.

Statements in the Journal ASA by ASA Officers and Editors

We may possibly feel that statements published in the Journal ASA are more representative of the "official" ASA position than are informal statements such as those quoted above. Actually, there is complete consistency between the two sources.

An editorial in the December 1950 issue states that one of the main objectives of ed.torial policy is "to permit, within the framework of conservative theology a discussion of both sides of scientific questions on which many true Christians are known to differ." The editor also notes that "the publication of many papers in recent issues has demonstrated a striking difference in point of view."

The September 1951 issue included "The American Scientific Affiliation-The First Decade" by Alton Everest. A statement by Harley Barnes is quoted at length because Altou considered it to be "a fair expression of the prevailing attitude of the majority of the present Associates and Fellows of the ASA," That statement includes the following:

The essence of my attitude toward evolution and the Bible as a Christian geologist is that Christians should be non-evolutionary because the Bible does not give unequivocal grounds for being anti-evolutionary. - . We are faced . . - with the realization that the Bible allows for numerous interpretations of the creation account, but our choice of "the" interpretation has been limited to those which do not conflict with accumulated scientific observations. . . - Let us not repeat the mistake of earlier Christians by forcing the Bible to speak in the language of current or recently current theory. - . - If it can be interpreted more than one way, let us admit it and when all pertinent facts are known rejoice in the Wisdom which has been revealed but until that time not understood. Perhaps the Bible suffers less from too much literal interpretation than from too much literal interpolation (3:36).

One final example will suffice. In the June 1952 issue Del Eggenberger's editorial dealt with plans for a diseussion at the annual meeting on "Conflicts Within the The ASA has never taken an official A.S.A." He concedes that a number of members for some time had been suggesting that the ASA should have a united front on controversial issues. He responds that:

It has been the feeling of the Executive Council that this is not a proper aim of the A.SA., rather we should attempt to present possible solutions on topics of interest to our group. We do not claim as a scientific organization to have the final answer on any given subject in the area of science and certainly we are not given to just one interpretation of Biblical statements. 

After commenting that some members are inclined to accept flood geology, whereas others are wholly committed to the modern point of view, Eggenberger states: 

Now it is not the policy of the A.S.A. to officially decide which is the correct point of view; rather we should investigate both as possible solutions to the subject. The same principle holds in any other area of science (emphasis supplied). 

Other Official Publications

In the Preface to Modern Science and Christian Faith (1950 edition), Alton Everest wrote that "The main function of the American Scientific Affiliation is to survey, study, and to present possible solutions. Ideas expressed in this book must not, therefore, he construed as representing the official view of the group" (p. vi). There was some uncertainty among Executive Council members as to whether the chapter on anthropology should be included, but the final decision was in the affirmative. Authors of the different chapters took very different approaches: Edwin Gedney's discussion of geology supported a progressive creationism view. William Tinkle and Walter Lammerts took an antievolution position in discussing biology, and William Smalley and Marie Fetzer's approach to anthropology included theistic evolution as one possible way of correlating human paleontology with the Scriptures. In the Preface to Evolution and Christian Thought Today, Russell Mixter wrote: 

the respective authors ask only that their presentations be judged without prejudice. Each of them is committed to the evangelical Christian doctrine that the world and its living members are the result of the activity of Cod as declared in the Holy Scriptures. They do not hold that their views are the only possible ones, but they do maintain that the information they submit is accurate, and that their interpretations are fair to both Christian and scientific principles. These principles, rather than any particular doctrine held by Christians of the past, have been their criteria of judgment (pp. 6-7). 

Although probably none of the chapters can be characterized as being completely anti-evolutionary, James 0. Buswell, III did argue against theistic evolution. The other chapters represent a wide range in the degree of acceptance of evolution as a possible mechanism used by God in the creative process. 

The Current Situation 

I have been concerned here primarily with the early years of our organization because most of the statements implying an "official position" concerned that period of our development. Let us look finally at the current situation, because some of our members have

The ASA has never taken an official anti-evolution (or any other) position, although there is abundant evidence that there has been considerable pressure to do so.

insisted that the ASA is presently promulgating theistic (or some other form of) evolution. One member wrote to the Journal ASA editor and to Harold Hartzler that the Journal should be honest and admit that the ASA position is theistic evolution. Another person wrote that he was cancelling his membership because the ASA no longer provided a broad forum for views that were contrary to those of the journal editor. However, if one reads the Journal at all regularly, he will know that Dick Bube has solicited dialogues between people holding contrary views. One member whose participation in such a dialogue has been solicited is unhappy with the breadth of views allowed. He has complained that his "partner" in the dialogue "cites repeatedly the literature of godless, unbelieving, materialistic scientists as the basis for his own conclusions."

The position of the Journal editor is shown by an answer he gave to a member who objected to the publication of a specific article with which he disagreed.

It is not a function of the Journal to propagate a crusade for any particular interpretation of many questions in which science and Christian faith are mutually involved. Any article, judged to he consistent with the Constitutianally-stated purposes and doctrine of the ASA and to exhibit sound scholarship in respect to factual basis and exercise of interpretation, is acceptable for publication in the Journal. If an author is guilty of gross scientific or exegetical error, we are confident that readers will quickly set the record straight, thereby increasing general understanding of the truth (21:93, 1969).

Further evidence that the ASA does provide a broad forum within the framework of our organization is the variety of papers presented at annual meetings. I referred earlier to abstracts printed in meeting programs to demonstrate that there was no official position (or even united front) in the early years of the ASA, and one can use the same method to show that there is curresitly no evidence of an official "pro-evolution" position. At the 1968 meeting Robert Gentry spoke on "Cosmology, Radioactive Halos, and the Age of the Earth,'
and suggested that "creation by fiat should be considered as a valid cosmological model."

In 1973 5. Hugh Paine presented "The Origin of Life: A Fresh Look at What the Bible Reveals," in which he emphasized the acceptance of the Bible as a basis for understanding concerning the origin of life. "It becomes of primary importance, therefore, to examine it carefully to determine what God is trying to say to us through it."
Hugh Paine was also on the program in 1974, with a paper on "The Genesis Flood and Biblical Uniformitarianism," which dealt with the internal consistency of the Biblical record of diluvialism. He proposed a mechanism for global flooding-using data currently available in the geophysical sciences-and discussed the possible boundaries in time and space for such an eustatie excursion. 

I personally trust that we will continue to investigate all areas of the relationship of science to the Scriptures.

He concluded that the credibility of the Biblical record appears to be sustained by these studies, and that modification of the uniformitarian theory to include such events is needed.

In 1975 our Executive Secretary specifically invited Duane Gish to give one of the major presentations at the annual meeting, but he was unable to attend.

Certainly the evidence from materials published in the Journal ASA and papers presented at annual meetings contradicts a claim that the ASA currently takes any official position.

I am convinced that the above evidence shows unequivocally that the ASA has never taken an official anti-evolution (or any other) position, although there is abundant evidence that there has been considerable
pressure to do so. The only official ASA statement is the following:

(1) The Holy Scriptures are the inspired Word of Cod, the only unerring guide to faith and conduct. (2) Jesus Christ is the Sun of Cud who through his atonement is the one and only Mediator between Cud and Man. (3) Cod is the Creator of the physical universe and he has made it to function according to certain laws which are the legitimate subject of man's studies and investigations. The scientific approach is capable of giving reliable information about the natural world (ASA Constitution, 1969 Revision).

I personally trust that we will continue to investigate all areas of the relationship of science to the Scriptures, and that we will never be guilty of judging a fellow Christian's commitment to Christ by that person's position on any issue about which Christians honestly disagree.