Irwin A. Moon, F. Alton Everest and Will H. Houghton:

Early Links Between the Moody Bible Institute and the American Scientific Affiliation


Gordon College
Wenham, MA 01984

From: Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 43 (December 1991): 249-258.

A recent George Page PBS nature program featured the time dependent behavior of various birds, fish and mammals. Modern film methodology was employed to show startling effects and unusual behaviors. One scene featuring those slippery actors, the west coast grunions, reminded the viewer of the Moody Institute of Science (MIS) films of the 1940s which pioneered photographic methods and pictured so imaginatively the heavens, bat behavior and the grunion birthing process. Moody film pioneers Irwin A. Moon and Alton Everest were also key figures in the founding of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA). The close early connection between ASA and MIS suggests that a study of films can provide insight into the attitudes toward science and the understanding of science/faith questions held by early members of the ASA. This paper describes the founding period of both organizations and offers an analysis of several early MIS productions.

"...a recounting of the acts of God"1

Today, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which the founding of the ASA would be inspired by an individual who never joined the organization, and that the organization would be nourished in the soil of the Bible Institute movement of the 1940s. A national news magazine of the day had described Moody Bible Institute (MBI) as "the powerhouse of American fundamentalism" and the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA) fit the same mold.2 Yet these institutions would offer meeting sites, encouragement, credibility, resources, and service opportunities for an organization which would soon come to harbor ideas which were anathema to their constituency.

The story of the ASA begins in Los Angeles about 1931 at the Montecito Park Union Church. Montecito Park's young pastor sought to reach the youth of his community through a series of scientific demonstrations designed to illustrate biblical truths and to set the stage for a call to Christian commitment. As a teenager, Irwin A. Moon (1907-1986) had developed a strong interest in science and accumulated an impressive collection of books and apparatus. His academic promise led to an offer of a scholarship to study physics at Yale, but a conversation with a Christian woman customer in the grocery store where he worked led to a radical change in his educational direction.3 She challenged his Christian commitment and willingness to serve Christ. Moon had been raised in a Christian family, but had given little attention to spiritual matters. His discussion with the woman raised doubts about his future course. Living in a religious culture which viewed science and religion as opposing forces, he was compelled to decide whether to prepare for a scientific career or give his life "wholly to serving the Lord Christ."4 He chose "full time service" and enrolled that fall at Moody Bible Institute instead of Yale. The next year he moved back home to Los Angeles to complete biblical studies at BIOLA and Los Angeles Baptist Seminary.5

As he took up his work at the Montecito Church, Moon began to rethink the science-Christianity question. He attended a lecture series at the Mount Wilson Observatory.

It was almost enough to make an atheist out of me," he said afterwards. "Was man but an invisible microbe crawling on a speck of cosmic dust?" With so many stars, so many planets, how could God possibly care for one man? And then everything began to fall in place. Moon believed that the answer to his questioning was a miracle of God's leading. The vastness of the universe, the equally vast microscopic world, weren't they evidence of a Divine Creator? Do these things prove rather than disprove the existence of God? Should not science and religion be allies, rather than in opposing camps?6

Moon's scientific presentations at Montecito Park Union Church attracted much interest and, as his fame spread, he became flooded with requests to take his "Sermons From Science" (SFS) on the road. As this ministry expanded he came to recognize that he could not do justice to both his church and SFS. His decision to leave Montecito Park to work full time with SFS was characteristic of a lifetime willingness to explore uncharted waters. Moon developed a series of spectacular electrical, optical, sound and chemical demonstrations and took to the road with a trailer which would eventually carry two tons of apparatus. He began to experiment in photography, constructing an electrical timing device with which he was able to take time lapse pictures of flowers opening, clouds changing, and butterflies emerging from their chrysalises. His ministry soon expanded to nationwide scope under the sponsorship of groups of churches and Christian businessmen's committees.7

" under his guidance (the)unusual and much used ministry of Dr. Irwin A. Moon came forward."8

The next link in the birth of the ASA was formed in late 1937 when Moody Bible Institute president Will H. Houghton viewed a "Sermons From Science" presentation at the Church of the Open Door in Los Angeles. Moon later described his unease at Houghton's presence.

At that time the "Sermons from Science" ministry was in its infancy. Although God had blessed the work in a rather remarkable way, there were still many who looked upon the use of two tons of scientific equipment in the presentation of the gospel as undignified and improper, and who considered the ministry "gadget evangelism." Often I had wondered what the attitude of the institute would be toward a former student engaged in such unorthodox antics.9

Houghton invited Moon for a late "bite to eat" and shocked him with an offer to join the extension department of MBI. Moon later wrote, "at that period in my life, it was my firm conviction that all organizations were more or less of the devil and that it was quite impossible to be tied up with one and still be free to follow the leading of the Lord."10 He mentioned this to Houghton and followed this pronouncement with the equally bombastic comment that his "burden was not to minister to the over-fed Christians in the Bible conferences, but to reach those who would never be reached by ordinary methods, particularly high school and college young people."11

Moon was set back on his heels by Houghton's response.

"That's finethose are the ones I want to reach." But as he said it, there were tears in his eyes.12

For Moon,

Here at last was a man who understood, someone whom I could trust with every dream and plan I had for the future. In that brief hour was born a friendship and a relationship that was to be the greatest blessing of my life.13

His resistance broken, Moon would soon join the Moody organization for a fruitful and lasting relationship. Moody's extension office would open up new audiences and take much of the paper work off his hands. In spite of the many demands on his time, President Houghton would continue to maintain a strong interest in "Sermons From Science" and would occasionally join Moon in the ministry to counsel inquirers at the close of the meetings, especially when the work became focused on military bases. Moon noted, "Often there would be scores or even hundreds of men making decisions for Christ in the meetings, and at these times, Dr. Houghton would sit watching with tear-stained eyes."14

Moon later recalled:

The most thrilling and wonderful hours of my life were those spent with Dr. Houghton as we dreamed and planned together for the future. In such times as these were born the gospel ministry at the World's Fair in San Francisco in 1939-40, the American Scientific Affiliation with its vast potential, the gospel film ministry of the Moody Bible Institutethe Moody Institute of Science with its many fields of service, all with their message to youth around the world.15

One is driven to ask why Houghton was so impressed with Moon's scientific approach to evangelism. MBI offered no science courses, and its publication, the Moody Monthly evidenced no love of science. Houghton's exposure to formal education at Eastern Nazarene College (then in North Scituate, Rhode Island) had lasted a short six months and was bereft of science. Undoubtedly, the enormous popularity and many conversions stemming from SFS must have attested to the value of Moon's approach. The appeal to youth touched Houghton, whose own effective appeal to young people while at Calvary Baptist Church in New York City had caused it to be dubbed "the young people's church."16

At a different level, Houghton may have been attracted by the "show biz" dimension of the demonstrations. As a teenager he had developed a strong interest in acting through his involvement in religious plays performed in a Lynn, Massachusetts church.17 Later he would gain a small part in a traveling company and spend four years doing black-face and tramp acts for a national vaudeville circuit.18 Although a Christian during this period, a "backslidden" Houghton required a radical change in his life to move from vaudeville to ordination in the Canton, Pennsylvania Baptist Church in 1915. His preaching gifts became widely recognized and he was called to a series of important churches (the last being New York's Calvary Baptist Church) prior to his appointment to become President of Moody in 1934.19

A potential barrier to bringing SFS into the Institute fold was the need for the approval of Moody's trustees. A Moody press release of the 1940s provided the reasoning behind the decision, saying that " [i]t was a radical venture for the Institute, known for its conservative ideas, but Dr. Houghton believed in Dr. Moon and he finally sold the Bible Institute's board of trustees on his `different evangelism.'..."20

"Sermons From Science" was to be a popular feature at the 1939-40 Treasure Island World's Fair in San Francisco, with an audience estimated at several hundred thousand.21 During the war years, Moon presented his programs at military bases under the auspices of the United Service Organization. The quality of his programs so impressed the military that they gave him gas ration coupons so that he could fly his plane to the next city to rest up for the next engagement while his assistants were transporting (often overnight) the massive amount of equipment.22

Moon's programs were good fodder for the local press. The Buffalo Courier Express for October 19, 1938 bore the headline: "Evangelist in Scientist's Role Refutes Old Ideas of Conflict." Another headline read: "Spectacular Demonstrations Bear Out Theme That Bible and Book of Nature Agree." A reporter quoted Moon:

A true scientist knows that he is searching for truths which have been there, and have been there because of God. Religion seeks God and truth in other directions, and only the old-fashioned see conflict between science and God. There is not an unscientific fact in the Bible.23

"What a time to start a new organization!"24

The next character in our plot, F. Alton Everest, had heard about Moon through his wife, Elva, a fellow student at BIOLA in the late 1920s. Moon was known for his "zany exploits" and for being the president of the student body.25 Everest had seen Moon's SFS when at Corvallis and had arranged for the blowing of a Geiger tube and construction of a counter circuit for his use. Everest held degrees in electrical engineering from Oregon State and Stanford University, had done early developmental work in television and was then on the electrical engineering faculty at Oregon State. Everest delivered the apparatus to Moon in late 1940 during a SFS series in Salem, Oregon. From Everest's description and the later course of their lives, this meeting had the same sense of recognition of mutual interests and strong bonding that had characterized the earlier encounter between Moon and Houghton. Each was concerned about the challenges to faith that young Christian students faced when they entered the university and the inability of the church of that day to help them. They concluded that an organization of scientist-Christians would be the best base to formulate a strategy to offset these faith shattering encounters.26 The question was how to get such an organization started on a firm basis. They needed someone with national contacts and influence among conservative Christians to set the stage for the founding meeting.

Moon had in mind the right man for the task, his boss Will Houghton, who not only wrote a letter of invitation to prospective participants for an organizational meeting at MBI but convinced long term Moody patron and Board of Trustees President Henry Parsons Crowell to pay the travel and living expenses for those who would attend.27 Houghton's June, 1941 invitational letter spelled out Moon's (and Everest's) vision of the goals and membership requirements for the new organization.28 Houghton indicated that the group would not be associated with or be influenced by MBI and that Moon himself (although in Chicago during the time that the founders met) would not be a part of the founding group. Moon never became a member of ASA, but gave both advice and financial support. He realized that he did not have the scientific credentials necessary to join the "science teachers" that were to make up the organization, and perhaps felt it wise to distance himself from any official connection with the group so that his ministry would not be compromised by potentially "heterodox" ideas held by ASA members. Instead, he chose to make his contributions from behind the scene.

Houghton looked for a new breed to tackle the task of carving out 
an organization - professional scientists who would seek to avoid conflict 
and provocative public pronouncements and instead would 
thrash out issues on a man-to-man basis.

This was not the first attempt to develop a science/Christianity organization in the Windy City. The Religion and Science Association had held its initial meeting in early 1936 at Moody's Memorial Church. But interpretative disagreements among leaders L. Allen Higley, W. Bell Dawson, Harry Rimmer, and George McCready Price led to a quick demise.29 Houghton may have learned from the failures of this and other short-lived groups and looked for a new breed to tackle the task of carving out an organization - professional scientists who would seek to avoid conflict and provocative public pronouncements and instead would thrash out issues on a man-to-man basis.30 He assigned Everest the task of drawing up a prototype constitution for the new organization.31

With this operating philosophy the membership managed to hang together until the early 1960s, a point at which there was sufficient numerical strength to offset the loss of a dissident group which formed the Creation Research Society. Everest suggested that the ASA founders soon identified within their group a fundamental difference in approach from other organizations of their day. "Instead of coming together on the dual basis of a shared faith plus fixed interpretation of science and scripture, the [ASA] membership shared a basic Christian faith plus a desire to seek the truth between the many conflicting scientific and scriptural interpretations."32

Ultimately five men would attend the founding meeting held September 2-5, 1941. They were a mixed bag geographically and in terms of academic discipline; Peter Stoner (1888-1980), astronomer and mathematician at Pasadena City College, Russell D. Sturgis (1897-1969), chemist on the faculty of Ursinus (PA) College, Irving Cowperthwaite (1904- ), chemist and metallurgist living near Boston who had attended Calvary Baptist Church in New York during Houghton's pastorate, John P. Van Haitsma (1884-1965), biologist at Calvin College, and F. Alton Everest, (1909- ) electrical engineer at Oregon State University.33 The founding members became the first Executive Council and elected Everest president, a position he would hold for a decade.

Cowperthwaite recently recounted the circumstances of his invitation to the founding meeting.34  He had been a member of Calvary Baptist Church during Houghton's pastorate and had moved to the Boston area in early 1941 to take a new position. He took the opportunity to attend a Sermons from Science presentation at Boston's Park Street Church at which Houghton was to be present. Afterwards, Cowperthwaite and his wife, Fay, took Houghton and Moon out for some ice cream. The conversation got around to the new organization that Houghton was attempting to pull together and the need to invite the right people. At that point Fay piped up, "What's the matter with Irving?" Houghton replied, "Of course" and called his secretary later that evening to issue Cowperthwaite a formal invitation. 

World War II became real to Americans a few months later and the five members of the ASA and advisors Moon and Houghton found their lives drastically changed. Sturgis and Van Haitsma were forced to reduce their ASA commitment, and the bulk of the work of the council during the war years was carried out by Stoner, Cowperthwaite, the secretary-treasurer, and President Everest. Everest took a leave from Oregon State to head a Navy research team working on ocean acoustics. This gave him the chance to move about the country recruiting members and prodding council members to do their work.35 that had been discussed at the founding meeting. Although Everest was able to visit each of them again on their home turf, the five were destined not to meet together again.

Ultimately five men would attend the founding meeting 
held September 2-5, 1941.

As the war years continued, the ASA membership haltingly grew and a major "student handbook" project began to take form under the alternate badgering and cajoling of Everest, whose frustration with the indifference of writers and reviewers to deadlines foreshadowed that of ASA journal editors thereafter. The handbook, first suggested by Moon, was "to be placed in the hands of prospective college students with the idea of forewarning them of the apparent [religious] difficulties they would encounter in their college studies."36

Council member Stoner produced From Science to Souls in 1944. The impressive sales (350,000 copies) of his work, reprinted in 1952 and reissued as Science Speaks in 1976, can hardly fail to bring a sense of longing on the part of latter day ASA authors.37 Stoner, Cowperthwaite and Everest sought to reach the Christian community by contributing articles to Moody Monthly. Everest kept Moon and Houghton in touch with the progress of ASA, often including them as recipients of his letters to council members. The first ASA regional meetings were held in the fall of 1942 at Pasadena, Gordon College in Boston, and MBI. Houghton's interest in the ASA continued until his death in 1947. He provided lunch for members attending a regional meeting at MBI in 1944 and, along with an anonymous donor, paid for the initial printing of the booklet, The Story of the ASA, in that year.38

The founders and consultants, Moon and Houghton, were of one mind about the need to maintain a low profile. They were fully aware of the sensitivity of their fundamentalist constituency to science-Bible issues and felt that their approach to the scientific community needed to be accomplished in a non-confrontational manner. Everest was often asked to sponsor debates on various issues. In one instance, Dudley Joseph Whitney asked for a debate with unbelieving scientists to "force the issue [evolution] before the public and lick them." Everest in response noted " since we are not agreed among ourselvesno lasting good would result from public debate of the type you suggest."39 The pressures of war-time activity weighed heavily on Everest. In a letter to Barnes he wrote,

I am so loaded down, Marion, I am afraid that I have been brief to the point of gruffness with you. We are all pretty much on our own due to the great separation in distance yet so close together in our aims and hopes and aspirations.40

"MBI is laying plans for a Christian Scientific Lab"41

As World War II began to wind down, Everest's letters suggested that he might not return to Oregon State when peace arrived. In a November, 1943 letter to Moon he asked to be kept informed "of the activities of the [film production group] you were instrumental in starting."42 Earlier in the year he had written to Edward Hart, his pastor, indicating "certain plans the Affiliation has for Christian films in science and the Bible."43 On the same day Everest received a letter from Paul Bauman, Chairman of the Department of Theology and Apologetics at BIOLA who noted his joy at Everest's "reaction to the work that Moody is planning to do."44 He asked him to "consider the possibility of going there ...[with the] possible prospect of being associated with such men as Irwin Moon and Dr. Houghton."45

Everest did not easily come to the conclusion that MBI was the best place for the production of science-Christianity films, and addressed the ASA executive council on the matter in a letter of June, 1944. He discussed the possibility of ASA involvement and mentioned Moon's film work using time-lapse photography. He asked the council, "Should ASA enter the field?" Although no record of their response exists, subsequent events suggest that the council did not feel that the 50-member organization could assemble the resources to mount such an ambitious endeavor. A letter in early 1945 from Everest to the council indicated that "MBI is laying plans for a Christian Scientific Lab which will turn out high quality films [and] conduct research on a long-term basis."46 Soon after, Everest wrote his friend Phil Burman about the project, noting, "I may be in it myself as the Lord seems to be leading."47 The ASA itself would not become involved with film production until the late 1980s.48

"who is to be boss"49

Moon, Houghton, trustee H. Coleman Crowell and Everest met in Chicago during the Moody Founders Week in February 1945 to lay final plans for the new venture. However, one nagging question had not been resolved - the lines of authority. A series of letters among the four men resolved the problem and at the same time revealed the Christian character of these visionary individuals. Moon raised the question of authority in the context of an earlier film production, They Live Forever, which had at one point reached the "stage of a hopeless muddle."50 He recognized the need for careful planning and execution of projects for the Christian and scientific communities and was fearful of the effect of mistakes on these audiences.

Everest quickly put the matter to rest.

Everything, including my inability to participate for some months, points toward Irwin's taking the lead in this work, assuming the responsibility, being given the authority, and taking the title as director of the laboratory. In this way he would have control over the policies and could stand guard against pitfalls .... Perhaps, over a period of years I will have proven myself to the extent that Irwin will want to entrust more and more to me as the work grows.51

President Houghton settled the matter indicating that each man would be given the title of "director."

Mr. Moon is the originator, creator, and the platform man. Mr. Everest will be the detail man. Not that he will run the errands or wield the broom, but he will see that these things are done. He will break down the projects and assign the parts to personnel.52

Houghton also recognized a much deeper problem.

It is one thing to do a first-class laboratory job; it is another to do a job with our fellow fundamentalists, some of whom have little knowledge but deep prejudices in the realm of science .... It is not our job to start a new reformation and move fundamentalism out of its inclination to think with its emotions.53

His concern with the audience extended to a suggested anthropology project.

We will have to keep in mind that most of our orthodox friends not only believe in the plenary inspiration of the Bible, but the verbal inspiration of Schofield's notes and Ussher's chronology. When you talk about the antiquity of man they think you are talking about evolution.54

He then approvingly quotes from Moon's February 24, 1945 letter: "I am questioning the advisability of starting the career of the laboratory and perhaps ending it, in a martyr's role."55

Everest made the move to join with Moon and MBI in September, 1945 - a relationship which continued until his retirement in 1970. Everest stated his view on the relation between ASA and MIS in a letter of the same month to Allen MacRae, president of Faith Seminary.

The burden of this group (MIS) will be to dwell on the problems arising between science and Christianity and to bear a vital witness in intellectual and scientific fieldsthere shall logically be a very close tie between this group and the ASA, and that complementary in nature.56

Moon and Everest set up shop in a former lodge hall in west Los Angeles, California. Building their equipment from scratch and making full use of the war surplus items, these pioneers and a dedicated staff put together a state-of-the-art film production facility that by 1953 had produced six films which had been used in 62 countries in some 15 different languages.57 By 1986, the initial film, God of Creation (1945) was showing in 28 language versions in 132 countries.58

Attitudes toward science in the Moody Monthly during the 1940s

As Moon and Everest began the film production process, they needed to establish the tone and the strategy for this new evangelistic approach. Should the films simply record the SFS demonstrations and scripts already fine-tuned by Moon over many years of experience, or should they take advantage of new developments in cinematography to offer a much richer presentation of nature? Should the rhetorical style of the "demonstrations" be to let the facts of nature and scripture speak for themselves in setting the stage for a presentation of the Gospel? Or should there be an active effort to attack the evils of materialism and evolution and argue the validity of the biblical account of creation?

The rhetorical options available were clearly spelled out in the widely circulated Moody Monthly edited by President Will H. Houghton. During the 1940s Moody Monthly published a number of articles on Christianity/science themes which paralleled the line of thought which became the central credo of the Creation Research Society established two decades later. A July, 1940 editorial noted that "the evolutionary concept is largely responsible for the confusion of our times."59 Articles such as "Why is evolution believed?"(1941), "Why I believe in creation rather than evolution"(1941), "Why I believe the flood to be the key to geology"(1941), "Is evolution of the universe a myth?"(1943), and "Was the flood universal?"(1945) reflected the thinking and the important issues for the vast majority of North American conservative Christians. Hyman Appleman, a prominent preacher on the Bible conference circuit, settled the big question for fundamentalists with his comment that "evolution is no longer accepted by real scientists."60

During this same period ASA founders Peter Stoner and Irving Cowperthwaite wrote Moody Monthly articles which struck a different note. Stoner's "The creator of gravitation"(1942) placed emphasis on the power and wisdom of God. His "Faith lost in college"(1944) dealt with the problems of students in secular institutions who felt that science undermined their Christian beliefs. Irving Cowperthwaite wrote devotional articles on "Lessons from growing grain"(1945) and "Marvels of God's atom"(1946). Both writers saw science as a means of displaying the Creator's works more effectively rather than as an adversary of Christianity. Everest became a science consultant for Moody Monthly's "Youth Supplement" and wrote a two-part article "Can Christians be scientific?"61 He strongly encouraged young Christians to enter the scientific professions, arguing that the strict application of Baconian scientific method would root out any errors in scientific thinking (or biblical interpretation) and that each would harmoniously support the other. Everest recalls that the early ASA members drew on the British Journal Transactions of the Victorian Institute for ideas.62 Moon's 1960 article in the Christian Herald argued against "fighting over a little strip of ground" instead of "look[ing] over the whole estate."63 He felt that both the church and science had contributed to the rift between them and warned his readers about interpreting scripture to fit current science.

The SFS films that appeared in a steady stream in the next two decades showed that Moon and Everest would reach far beyond the science of the Moon demonstrations to encompass new scientific discoveries and film technology. They steadfastly refused to engage in science bashing or confrontation, seeking instead to develop a positive relation between science and the Bible.

"...the experiments by the air pump, condensing engine and electrical machine...exhibit the operations of nature, and the God of nature Himself"64

The "Sermons From Science" approach follows, in some measure, a tradition which went back far beyond Moon's shows in the 1930s. I will digress to look at this earlier tradition which exhibited some of the same goals as its modern counterpart. The 17th and 18th centuries saw practitioners of natural philosophy demonstrating their discoveries before audiences ranging from their colleagues, to the general public, to the royal court. Before the development of "scientific journals" in France and England, this activity was a major means for transmitting scientific information. A scientist argued his scientific case by demonstrating the phenomenon before his peers. As experimental complexity and time constraints became more extensive, "demonstrations" lost their original purpose, but remained popular as teaching devices, ways of popularizing science and of making money for the lecturer and, in an era where science and Christianity were still linked for religious purposes, were used to demonstrate the mark of the Divine. A myriad of examples could be drawn from nature to demonstrate the wisdom of the Creator right before the audience's eyes. An earlier set of metaphysical "proofs" could now be supplemented by the "facts" of nature. A purposeful cause could be seen in the very small as well as the very large - through microscope and telescope. The observed perfection of creatures in natural history was illustrative of purposeful cause. As de Maupertuis (1698-1759) would note, those holding this perspective would discover in nature the views of the Creator, finding his intent in the most minute parts of nature: "the tiniest parts of nature constitute repeated demonstrations [of his being]; his power, wisdom and goodness are painted on the wings of butterflies and in every spider's web."65

Evangelist John Wesley was less sure after viewing a mid-eighteenth century electrical lecture.

I went with two or three friends to see what are called the electrical experiments. How these must confound those poor half-thinkers who will believe nothing but what they can comprehend. Who can comprehend how fire lives in water, and passes through it more freely than through air? How [did] issue out of my finger, real flame, such as sets fire to spirits of wine? How these and many more strange phenomena arise from the turning around a glass globe? It is all mystery; if haply by any means God may hide pride from man.66

Regardless of the mystery, Wesley would later write a work on electricity (1760) and use an "electrical machine" to cure various physical afflictions of "hundreds, perhaps thousands" of his constituents.67

The "Sermons From Science" demonstrations of Moon, George Speake, G. Keith Hargett and, today, Dean Ortner are a latter day edition of this earlier tradition. They feature, however, an evangelistic centerpiece which would have been unthinkable to their forbearers. The science films, in turn, have acted to accentuate the marvels of nature and multiply the audience of the latter day "demonstrators." They communicated the attitudes of Moon, Everest and their ASA consultants on such questions as the value of science, the nature of scientific method, the relation between science and scripture and the "message" that nature was seen as communicating about God.

" demonstrate the reliability of the Scriptures, the reality of God and provide a foundation upon which the Gospel of Christ was presented"68

The three films reviewed here were produced between 1945 and 1962 and are each 28 minutes in length. They were filmed in color and employed state-of-the-art cinematography and scientific apparatus. Over the years, the MIS team published papers in scientific journals and received many awards for the films and scientific innovations. Their use of film to portray nature's grandeur and unusual behaviors was a powerful attention grabber from which to present the gospel to the unconverted and deepen the faith of the believer.

The writers drew from many areas of science to present a teleological case; design, law and order, purpose, a harmony that demands an intelligent creative genius. The next stage in their argument would point to a personal God to whom we are responsible. Each film followed the same general outline; first, a popular presentation of some scientific theme with theological overtones, then a more or less logical transition to an analogous religious theme, and finally to an invitation for Christian commitment.

Film audiences ranging from servicemen on military bases, world's fair audiences, college and high school classrooms and prison populations to Youth For Christ and Sunday evening services offered a massive challenge to the writers. For the most part the MIS films chose to allow nature and scripture to speak for themselves. While evangelism was the basic motive, for the Christian viewer there was an unstated yet clear affirmation of science as a career. Review by ASA members would guarantee that the scientific facts were correct. Unfortunately this review was difficult to implement during the film production process and took place only in the early films.

The writers established a religious identity at widely varying points. The initial film, God of Creation (1945), begins with Moon at a desk with a Bible open before him, asserting, "We are going to explore various realms of God's creationbefore we close we will agree that he is a wonderful God." The astronomy section begins with the verse, "The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth His handiwork."69 At the close of that sequence Moon notes that in the "immensity of God's universe man seems too small for God to care anything about." A later segment on the lily uses the verse "consider the lilies of the field."70

Red River of Life (1957) presents a powerful exposition of the argument of design based on the wonders of blood and the human circulatory system. We note only one direct reference to Christianity - ce without the usual initial scenes of Moon at a lecture desk. An intriguing view of bee biology and social behavior is portrayed with no religious references until the discussion turns from bee to human social behavior and the Ten Commandments are asserted as the standard for human society. The argument is then made for individual commitment to Christ.

God of Creation ranged from galaxy to lily to paramecium to demonstrate the vastness of creation and the unity of organic and inorganic behavior. This is seen in the use of time-lapse photography and the creative use of music. Moon then turns to the interplay of sun, plant and insect in the life cycle of the poppy and the butterfly. He closes his discussion with a sequence on the microscopic paramecium, arguing that its apparent simplicity is deceptive. For Moon, these are "strange and wondrous things." He asks, "What do all these amazing things mean to us?" and argues the point that "it is not what you know, but who you know that counts." He asks, "What is your relation to God?" and asserts the need for "a personal experience with God whose greatest creative miracle is that of salvation." "This experience is not with a formula, we need to experience a new life, not turn over a new leaf." "God's work as Creator is not over; he stands ready to do his greatest miracle create a new life."

Red River of Life resonates with Christian images which its writers wisely do not explore until the close of the film. At that point they forcefully argue that the intricate mechanism of the circulatory system and the efficient design of its parts "demands an explanation" - intelligent design.

The attitudes of Moon, Everest and their colleagues toward science are seen both in what was said and what was not said. Science was viewed as a worthy enterprise for Christian and non-Christian alike. They treated the scientist with respect regardless of his religious views. They spoke with caution, recognizing the limits of scientific understanding and showed remarkable restraint for that day in not using the Bible as a guide to science. One exception was the comment on George Washington's last days and the blood letting process that may have hastened his death. Moon would comment that if they had read the Bible which lay on the desk by his bed they would have recognized that "the life was in the blood."71 The writers did not engage in the all-too-common fundamentalist put-down of evolution or use a rhetoric of confrontation even though they viewed the subject of origins in a different way than the scientific orthodoxy of the day. They were not unwilling to use modern illustrations of the design argument to attract the interest of the listener to the Christian message.

" just the facts, Ma'am"72

The practices of science and theology in ASA/MIS and most conservative Christian circles (and the general public) in the 1940s were popularly viewed in simple Baconian terms. Science was concerned with the facts and laws of nature while theology dealt with the facts and principles of the Bible; the result was a kind of symmetry between science and theology in which issues arising between the two would be resolved by the "right" facts which would be found if one looked hard enough and was patient. This methodological perspective had been adopted by a wide range of American Calvinistic theologians of the previous century including such stalwarts as Charles Hodge, Robert Dabney, B. B. Warfield, James Thornwell and a host of lesser lights.73 The influence of the "Princetonians" on conservative Christian thought moved far beyond traditional Calvinistic circles and deep into the 20th century as well. Evangelical historian George M. Marsden has sought to examine the reasons why conservative Christians, particularly those descended from the turn-of-the-century Princetonians, espoused the scientific basis of their culture even though it "was undermining belief in the very truths of the Bible they held most dear."74 By the 1930s this relationship had become more tenuous in the Bible institute milieu. The dispensational movement was Baconian in its insistence on the literal meaning of scripture but was more deeply concerned with the influence of evolution on American culture.

Today Bacon's method is seen as an unreachable ideal and the idea that there is a "scientific method" in any but the most simple sense is a hotly debated topic. The provisional nature of scientific thought cannot be doubted. Science is a human activity, not a royal road to truth; being human is knowing both science and theology only in part. The contributions of Thomas Kuhn, Abraham Kuiper and Cornelius Van Til have helped us to see that facts of science and religion, the kinds of facts deemed relevant and the process of fact-gathering are bound by culture.

Van Til sought to temper the view that "facts" were common to both Christians and non-Christians in a letter to Everest concerning a draft of the "student handbook" which had been sent to prominent American evangelicals for comment.75 Everest felt that Van Til's ideas needed wider exposure in the ASA and invited him to speak at the first Annual Meeting of the ASA at Wheaton College in August 1946.76 Van Til would challenge his audience to be philosophers and theologians as well as good scientists if their scientific work was to "count as an apologetic for Christianity."77

Van Til closed his remarks with a description of a dream in which

[he] saw a large group of scientists, Christians all, working in so many fields of sciencethey worked as those who knew that no facts but theistic facts can ever be observed and that no hypotheses but Christian theistic hypotheses can have genuine relevance to experience. Then I saw these men in my dream standing in the gates reasoning with men who worship Chance or Fate or a combination of the two. The really global war began. I saw also in my dream that the Christian scientists were much encouraged by the progress they were making. They were now really able to expose the bankruptcy of any scientific methodology that is not [either] self-consciously or unconsciously based on Christian theism.78

The founders of ASA and MIS may generally have sided with their fellow Christians against evolution and adhered to some form of Mosaic geology, yet they chose not to engage in polemical debate in their early books, articles and film presentations. Conflict and division would appear soon enough, but for a few years there was a positive note on which to build an organization and witness to the Gospel. As the early ASA reviewed the heritage of Christianity/science discussion that had flowed from such examples as Rimmer and Price, they found it wanting in both science and theology.79 They recognized the need to develop books and a journal which would hone the new discussion with the best that a resurgent evangelical scholarship could muster. Today, the tasks suggested a half century ago by the founders of ASA seem far more complex and the landscape far broader, yet the challenge to think and speak to our generation remains.


The author thanks Walter Osborn, Reference Librarian Archives Historical Collection, Moody Bible Institute; Carolyn Lafferty of the Moody Institute of Science; and Larry Thompson, Head of Archives, Wheaton College for their generous cooperation. F. Alton Everest, Irving Cowperthwaite and Mark Kalthoff have provided information and critical evaluation. A Gordon College faculty development grant provided travel support.


1 Alton Everest, The American Scientific Affiliation: Its Growth and Early Development, 1986. p. 10. Privately printed. Copies are held at American Scientific Affiliation, Box 668, Ipswich, MA 01938 and Wheaton College Library Archives (WCA).

2 Newsweek, Vol IV, #12, Sept. 22, 1934, p. 37. Moody educated pastors had been known to condemn the search for knowledge beyond scripture as sinful and denounce science as the path to atheism. Joseph Millard, "Now Science, Too, Joins the Church." Redbook Magazine 95:4 August(1950) pp. 36-37.

3 Undated press release "Evangelism's New Tool, Science presentsthe Gospel," p. 11. Moody Bible Institute Archives, (MBIA) MIS File 12. A series of undated press releases in the MBI Archives describes Moon's youthful interests in radio (he had an operator's license at the age of 12) , film, cars, motorcycles and "gadgeteering" in general. He would charge visitors to his parents' ostrich farm a dime to listen to the "spurts and crackles" of Morse code on his radio receiver.

4 ibid. p. 12.

5 Ref. 1, p. 29.

6 Ref. 3, p. 12.

7 Ref. 1, p. 30.

8 "The `Silent Deep' Speaks Up". Moody Monthly, XLVII(1947) p. 807.

9 Wilbur M. Smith, A Watchman on the Wall: Life Story of Will H. Houghton (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1951) p. 145.

10 ibid. p. 145.

11 ibid. p. 146.

12 ibid.

13 ibid.

14 ibid. p. 147.

15 ibid. p. 148.

16 ibid. p. 19.

17 ibid. p. 20.

18 ibid. p. 19.

19 ibid. p. 101.

20 undated 1940s press release, MISA MIS File p. 4.

21 Ref. 1. p. 32.

22 ibid. p. 31.

23 Buffalo Courier Express, October 19, 1938, p. 1. The MBI Archives hold an extensive collection of newspaper clippings from Moon's meetings.

24 Ref. 1. p. 34.

25 "Biographical Material on Dr. Irwin A. Moon," ca. fall 1948. MBIA File 12. p. 2.

26 Ref. 1. pp. 31-32.

27 ibid. p. 15.

28 Ref 6. pp. 142-144.

29 Ronald L. Numbers, "Creationism in 20th Century America." Science 218 (1982) p. 541; Ref 1. pp. 37-8.

30 Letter from Peter Stoner to Everest Feb. 25, 1944. WCA ASA Box 5 "We ASA should be friendly to science. The deluge geology bunch seems to go out with a chip on their shoulder and dare someone to knock it off."

31 F. Alton Everest, "The American Scientific Affiliation - The First Decade." Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 3 (1951) p. 37.

32 Ref. 1. p. 43.

33 Ref 1. pp. 16-25.

34 Personal communication from Cowperthwaite to Haas, April 16, 1991.

35 Ref 1. p. 35.

36 Letter from Everest to Van Haitsma, May 18, 1942. WCA ASA Box 5. 33 Ref 1. p. 19.

37 Ref. 1, p. 19.

38 Letter of Everest to the Executive Council, May 25, 1944. WCA ASA Box 5.

39 Letter of Everest to Dudley Joseph Whitney, March 21, 1944. WCA ASA Box 5.

40 Letter to Marion D. Barnes, March 31, 1944. WCA ASA Box 5.

41 Letter of Everest to the Executive Council, February 19, 1945. WCA ASA Box 6.

42 Letter of Everest to Moon, November 8, 1943. WCA ASA Box 5.

43 Letter of Everest to Edward Hart, March 25, 1944. WCA ASA Box 6.

44 Letter from Paul Bauman, to Everest, March 25, 1944. WCA ASA Box 6. Bauman (later a vice-president at BIOLA) was a good friend and confidant of Everest. Bauman, a trained zoologist, was a strong supporter of ASA and offered BIOLA facilities for ASA use. He would recruit members for the organization while on the Bible conference circuit.

45 ibid.

46 Letter of Everest to the Executive Council, June 19, 1944. WCA ASA Box 6.

47 Letter of Everest to Phil Burman, March 26, 1945. WCA ASA Box 6.

48 A six hour PBS series "Space, Time and God" is in the final script phase as this article goes to press. ASA Annual Report 1990, p. 2.

49 Letter from Everest to Houghton, Crowell and Moon, March 2, 1945. WCA ASA Box 6.

50 Letter from Moon to Houghton, Crowell and Everest, February 24 and 28, 1945. WCA ASA Box 6.

51 Ref. 49.

52 Letter from Houghton to Moon and Everest. March 8, 1945. WCA ASA Box 6.

53 ibid.

54 ibid.

55 ibid.

56 Letter of Everest to Allen MacRay, September 3, 1945. WCA ASA Box 7.

57 F. Alton Everest, "The Moody Institute of Science." Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 5 (1953) p. 10.

58 Ref 1. p. 29.

59 unsigned editorial, Moody Monthly XL 11(1940) p. 591.

60 Hyman Appelman in an editorial, Moody Monthly XLIV 7(1944) p. 380.

61 F. Alton Everest, "Can Christians Be Scientific?" Moody Monthly Part I XLVII 9 (1947) p. 663; Part II. 10 p. 737.

62 Ref. 1. p. 37.

63 Irwin A. Moon, "Science and the Christian." Christian Herald Feb. (1960) p. 11.

64 Joseph Priestley, Lectures on history and general policy in J. T. Rutt (ed): The theological and miscellaneous works of Joseph Priestley (25 vols, London, 1817-31), Vol. xxiv, pp. 27-28.

65 Roger Hahn, Laplace and the Mechanistic Universe in God and Nature, David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers, eds. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986) p. 265.

66 John Wesley, The Journal of John Wesley. Vol. 2 (London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1906) p. 36.

67 ibid. Vol 3 pp. 355-6. See also Frank W. Collier, John Wesley among the Scientists (New York: The Abingdon Press, 1928) which provides an analysis of the deep interest that Wesley had for the physical sciences and his views on the relationship of science and Christianity.

68 Private communication from Everest to Haas, May 14, 1991.

69 Psalm 19:1.

70 Matthew 6:28.

71 Deuteronomy 12:23.

72 An often used line by Sgt. Joe Friday in the "Dragnet" TV series of the 1950s.

73 Theodore Bozeman, Protestants in an age of Science (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press 1977).

74 George M. Marsden, The Evangelical Love Affair with Enlightenment in Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991) p. 126.

75 Letter of C. Van Til to Everest received November 24, 1945. WCA ASA Box 7.

76 Address by Professor Van Til, in "Report of the American Scientific Affiliation for 1946, Miscellaneous Papers and Reports 1946-1948". WCA ASA. pp. 24-26.

77 ibid. p. 24.

78 ibid. p. 26.

79 Bernard Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955).