Education Page


It's Time to Rejoin the Scientific Establishment

John A. McIntyre

Physics Department
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX 77840

From  PSCF 44 (June 1992): 124 - 127.

"You are invited to a banquet to honor the 48 American Jews who have won the Nobel Prize." As I read the letter I could not recall one evangelical Christian who had won a Nobel Prize. Yet there are some five times as many evangelical Christians as there are Jews. So, the score is: Jews: 240, Evangelicals: 0.*

How can we account for this wipeout? I don't think that Jews are that much smarter. The Nobel Prize results are simply evidence that there are 48 times more Jewish scientists than Evangelical scientists.

The Protestant Reformation Betrayed

So, why are there so few Evangelical scientists? I want to propose here that Evangelicals have abandoned science and other forms of scholarship because they have become separated from their roots in the Protestant Reformation.

Before the Protestant Reformation, there were two types of Christians - the clergy and the laity. The clergy were "in full-time Christian service." Their service was performed in leading the parish ministry, teaching the young, caring for the sick, and improving the lot of the poor. And, over all this, was the great missionary enterprise that supported the Crusades and sent the clergy to convert the heathen discovered by the European explorers as they opened up the new world.

The laity, on the other hand, had to earn their living, as well as support the clergy. They carried out the business of the secular world, the farming, the building, the buying and selling. They had little time for "Christian service" and were considered by both themselves and the clergy to be spiritually inferior to the clergy.

This was all changed with Luther's rediscovery of the gospel truth of justification by faith. No longer did man's salvation depend on his works. All works done by Christians were accepted by God if done for his glory. Thus, Luther's shoemaker glorified God by making good shoes.

This new respect for men working with their hands also recaptured the Old Testament attitude toward work. In contrast to the Greek practice of separating the philosophers, who were free men, from the manual laborers, who were slaves, Israel recognized the skill of the manual laborer as a gift from God.

So it is with the potter, sitting at his work, turning the wheel with his feet;

constantly on the alert over his work,  each flick of the finger premeditated;

 he pummels the clay with his arm, and puddles it with his feet;

 he sets his heart on perfecting the glaze, and stays up cleaning the kiln.

All these put their trust in their hands, and each is skilled at his own craft.

They are not remarkable for culture or sound  judgement, and are not found among the inventors of   maxims.

 But they give solidity to the created world, while their prayer is concerned with  what pertains to their trade.1


Science, in particular, benefitted from this new Christian freedom to enter into the material world. Commenting on astronomy, Calvin wrote:

For astronomy is not only pleasant, but also useful to be known: it cannot be denied that this art unfolds the admirable wisdom of God. Wherefore, as ingenious men are to be honored who have expended useful labor on this subject, so they who have leisure and ...capacity ought not to neglect this kind of exercise.2


And so reformed Christians flocked into science. Over half of the founders of the Royal Society of London were Puritans.

Now, let us examine the Evangelical culture of our day. There is an approved list of activities headed by the "full-time Christian service" of ministry in the church or on the mission field. Other approved activities are the teaching of the young, the caring for the sick, and the ministry to the poor. It is almost uncanny how similar this list is to that of the clergy in pre-Reformation society.

Naturally, these priorities have an effect on the people living in the Evangelical culture. There is a steady subconscious pressure on our young people to devote their lives to the approved activities and, of course, to admire others who do so. One hears Christians speak proudly of their sons or daughters who have married seminary students or missionaries.

But where is the encouragement for our young people to enroll into the graduate schools of our great research universities to enter a life of scholarship? I have yet to hear a Christian father speak proudly of his son or daughter marrying a graduate student. No wonder our young people are discouraged from entering the rigorous life of learning and research.

In contrast, for two millennia, the learned Jewish rabbi has occupied the place of honor in the Jewish community. Consequently, Jewish young people strive to enter the most challenging universities to prepare themselves for a life of scholarship.

Evangelicals in the Universities

Consider, for a moment, the effects of having a significant Evangelical presence in the university faculties of this country. One effect of such a presence has been described in a 1980 article in Time magazine:

In a quiet revolution in thought and argument that hardly anybody could have foreseen only two decades ago, God is making a comeback. Most intriguingly, this is happening not among theologians or ordinary believers, but in the crisp intellectual circles of academic philosophers, where the consensus had long banished the Almighty from fruitful discourse.

The article proceeds to credit this change to the fact that "a generation ago the brightest philosophers were atheists, but today, many of the brightest philosophers are theists and they are using a tough-minded intellectualism in defence of that theism."

Evangelicals do have a talent for scholarly work, as was demonstrated earlier in their development of modern science. And, even today, at least one observer has noted that Evangelicals defend their faith in a rational manner and that those who have betrayed reason are the liberals.3 It is almost a crime that, by their own choice, Evangelicals have disassociated themselves from the scholarly activities of our day.

To re-enter the modern world of scholarship and research, Evangelicals must return to their Reformation roots. This requires a profound change in the Evangelical culture and so will not be accomplished easily. I would like to propose that, during its second 50 years, the American Scientific Affiliation assume the responsibility of bringing Evangelicals back into the community of scholarship and research. I believe that the ASA is possibly the only organization that can achieve this goal, for only our members belong to both the evangelical and scientific communities.

 Turning It Around

But what should we do to encourage Evangelicals to return to the universities? My purpose here is to invite suggestions from the audience. To stimulate your thinking, I will begin with a few suggestions of my own.

First, I should say clearly that the ASA has long been aware of the need to encourage Evangelicals to participate in the scientific enterprise of our day. One result of this concern is SEARCH, Walt Hearn's series of biographies of Evangelical scientists, published as inserts in Perspectives. These articles seek, for the benefit of Evangelicals interested in science, to give a glimpse of the rewarding lives Evangelicals find in their scientific work.

Another ASA project with great potential is Space, Time, and God, the six-part TV program on the history of science, now in production. This program will correct the anti-Christian bias of other TV histories. It should also help to encourage Evangelicals to participate in the scientific enterprise when they realize that modern science was initiated and then supported by evangelical Christians for some three centuries.

We should also explore other avenues of entry into the evangelical community. For example, most church denominations have monthly publications that inform their members about details of the life of their church. The ASA could supply material for these publications so that the activities of the scientists in the denomination could be followed in the same way as those of the missionaries are. Walt Hearn's series of biographies (SEARCH) provides a ready resource of such materials. The ASA could also supply reviews of books such as Templeton and Herrmann's The God Who Would Be Known, that emphasize the beauty and mystery of God's creation.

Returning to the Reformation

However, as useful as these suggestions might be, they treat only the symptoms of the disease and not the disease itself. The disease is the pre-Reformation belief that some activities are more "Christian" than others and, in particular, that the study of science is not one of the "Christian" activities.

In addition, I believe that the study of science was rejected as a Christian activity when, at the turn of the century, tensions arose between the discoveries in science and the Evangelical interpretations of the early chapters of Genesis. But, wasn't this Evangelical withdrawal from the scientific community not a huge, irrational error that should be repudiated as soon as possible?

 The Vision

Whether an Evangelical believes in evolution or not, is it not a good thing for all Evangelicals to have their fellow believers teaching and working in the laboratories of the great research universities? Like the situation in philosophy, wouldn't the character of science be changed if Evangelicals were participating in its development? No longer would it be necessary for the ASA to produce a textbook to challenge one produced by The National Academy of Science. Evangelicals would be in the National Academy. No longer would it be necessary for Probe Ministries to request permission to present the Christian viewpoint on university campuses. Evangelicals would already be presenting it in their classes. No longer would it be necessary for Christian student groups to make a diligent search to find a Faculty Advisor. Their prospective advisors would be the professors teaching their classes. And, finally, the improper attacks on Christian beliefs would be challenged in the university faculty rooms instead of being left to fester waiting for action in the courts.

Isn't the vision of large numbers of Evangelical faculty members teaching in the secular universities a prospect that can appeal to all Evangelicals? Isn't this a vision to which we can all, without reservation, commit our support? Let us all join together to encourage our young people to prepare themselves to participate as faculty members in our secular universities. Our absence from the universities has been by our own choice and so the restoration of our presence to the universities lies within our own power.

Gathering Our Resources

Since all Evangelicals can agree on this vision, the ASA can expect to find support from the entire Evangelical community in its efforts to pursue the vision. The only problem is to decide what kind of support is needed. To make this decision, it is necessary to locate the place in the Evangelical community where our young people are being diverted from seeking an academic life. I believe that this place is at the heart of the community, in the churches. It is here that the basic values of the Evangelical community are taught and encouraged. The ASA must begin, then, by seeking the commitment of the ministers in these churches.

One line of communication to these ministers is through the ETS, the Evangelical Theological Society. A number of years ago, the ASA had joint meetings with the ETS. However, I do not believe that such a joint meeting would lead to the cooperation that we desire; we would spend all of our time arguing about evolution. No, we want to share our vision with them and ask for their commitment to pursue it with us. Therefore, I would recommend, as a first step, that the ASA send representatives to the next ETS meeting to propose that they join us in our pursuit of the vision.

The ministers are not the only ones who can help us with this task. The Creation Research Society enjoys a credibility with just the part of the Evangelical community with which the ASA has little influence. Again, the vision should be as appealing to them as to us.

Potential Evangelical scholars are also lost further along the educational chain. Here, the Evangelical student groups in the secular universities, such as InterVarsity, Campus Crusade, and the Navigators, can be approached. And, for the Christian colleges, we could share the vision with the Christian College Coalition.

Once a commitment to the vision has been accepted by the various constituencies of the Evangelical community, representatives of these groups should meet together to develop a plan of action. By drawing from such a broad background of experience across the entire Evangelical community, these suggestions should lead to an effective program for proceeding further.

Staying the Course

The vision of a large Evangelical representation in the secular universities is one which all Evangelicals can share with enthusiasm. And, when we recognize that nothing except our own inaction prevents the realization of the vision, we should be optimistic of a successful conclusion for our efforts.But, we must remember that we are dealing with deeply held Evangelical beliefs about the secular universities. Yet these institutions are no more spiritually daunting than the heathen cultures which our missionaries challenge every day. The only way to transform a culture is for Christians to enter that culture and reside there as Christians.

And so, in pursuing this vision, we will be entering into a long-term commitment. But Christians have shown the staying power to transform societies in the past. I would like to wager that, on its 100th anniversary, a large fraction of those attending the Annual Meeting of the ASA will be scientists from the large research universities.

I noted in the preliminary program for this meeting the topic: "How to Connect ASA with the Third World." I am proposing here that ASA get connected with the First World. It is time for Evangelicals to rejoin the scientific establishment.


1 The Jerusalem Bible, Ecclesiasticus 38:32-35, 39.

2Calvin, John, Commentaries on the Book of Genesis (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1948) p. 86.

3 Hordern, William E., A Layman's Guide to Protestant Theology (New York, Macmillian, 1968) p. 68.

* Editorial Note. Since this paper was published evangelical Dr. William Phillips of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (formerly NBS) in Gaithersburg, Maryland, won the Nobel prize in 1997 for his contributions to low-temperature physics. He was the plenary speaker at the 1999 ASA Annual Meeting.