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Historical Studies of the ASA and It's Members

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F. Alton Everest, The American Scientific Affiliation: Its Growth and Early Development, ASA Press (1986)
A history in word and pictures of the first 45 years from the eyes of the founding father..   

Early Web Site Home Pages

The ASA joined the cyber world late in 1994 as a result of an ad hoc meeting called by (then) PSCF Editor Jack Haas at the Annual Meeting held earlier that year at Bethel College. Terry Gray offered to make a beginning by developing a listserve discussion group and web site out of the Calvin College Chemistry Department with the generous support of Calvin's Computer Center.

ASA members and the world at large were invited to join our list (listserv, blog) and participate in wide-ranging  discussions of science-religion questions. Terry took on the daunting task of moderating a feisty set of participants who (on occasion) needed to be strongly reminded of their need to stay on subject, keep within the limit of postings allowed per day, or moderate their language. The archive is accessible  and searchable by name, date, etc. Pundits and historians have a running resource of science-religion themes deemed worth of discussion by our participants in these 90s and 00"s discussionv.

When the ASA list was initiated the few other evangelical lists were very selective in who was allowed to participate. The most popular secular site - offering access to all - was talk.origins.(t.o.)However, the huge volume of often irrelevant, incoherent, or profane postings discouraged even the most patient participant. The few ASA members who participated quickly learned that they needed to be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matt. 10.16.) if they were to achieve credibility.  There are downsides to such easy access. The notion that people on the run have the ability to toss off something concrete about an idea or an issue in a few lines seems a bit optimistic. Hard lines are drawn rather quickly. The ASA's list was viewed as allowing scientists of common faith to hone their personal world view, to reach out to other Christians who were having problems linking the Bible and science, and those outside the faith who wished to participate.

The ASA website is envisioned as a resource for science and faith for ASA members, college students and the church. As materials were placed on the site including a complete run of JACS and PSCF and The Newsletter, the audience has greatly increased. Numerous members and friends of the ASA have contributed in many ways to this resource.  The statistically minded can follow our audience numbers in an archieve. (not active)

Arrangement of materials into more than a dozen categories allows easier access into a many faceted field.

December 1998 The prototype ASA website.(not active)

April 2000  the April 2000 Version of the ASA home page

Terry Gray, Thoughts about the ASA Email ListServe (2009)


My involvement with the ASA web site and the ASA email list goes back to the beginning. In 1992 I, had written a review of Phil Johnson’s book Darwin on Trial for The Banner, the denominational magazine of the Christian Reformed Church, who owns and operates Calvin College, where I was then a professor in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department. While on sabbatical at Texas A&M during the 1993-94 academic year, I began to engage Phil Johnson and a group of mostly scientists sympathetic with his critique of evolution via the “evolution reflector”  which Phil ran out of Berkeley. The result of those conversations was an invitation to speak “opposite” Mike Behe at a symposium at the 1994 ASA annual meeting at Bethel College. (If you’re interested in some of that old stuff here are links to the on-line versions: Darwin on Trial review; Behe critique.) At that particular ASA meeting I had my first encounter with Jack Haas, who was then the editor of PSCF. Jack roped me in to becoming a member of ASA (only after I had conned him into giving me the previous four issues of the journal for free). It was at that meeting that Jack called an informal gathering of folks to discuss how the ASA might take advantage of the internet and the newly created World Wide Web. I had “mastered” HTML while on sabbatical and went back to Calvin with Jack’s blessing and guidance and by spring of 1995 created the first ASA web site hosted on my desktop Mac Classic and called asa.calvin.edu. You can still see early versions of those pages at web.archive.org.

The email list started at about the same time with 278 posts between May 1995 and February 1996. For some reason I don’t have those earliest posts but I’ve discovered them as well at web.arc hive.org (kind of scary, isn’t it?).

Starting in February 1996 we set the list up using the majordomo server at Calvin College. It has continued operating from there since that time. Posts are archived by Calvin, but we have moved the older archives to the ASA web site.

The graph below shows the steady growth in the activity on the ASA email list over the past decade or so.


I am confident that we would have set a record and hit over 1000 posts for December 2009 had we not taken our holiday hiatus.

When I think back on the history of the list or browse the archives, I’m impressed with how little progress we’ve made. Origins is by far our most frequently discussed topic and even with pleas from some members that we talk about other things, we never get too far from it. We also don’t make much progress. The same basic conversations are repeated over and over–of course, not always by the same people. But it’s pretty clear that we as a group haven’t resolved anything on this topic. Intelligent design advocates, theistic evolutionist advocates, old-earth creation advocates, and young-earth creation advocates stake their claims and there seems little movement.

That’s not to say that there is no benefit. At any one time on the list there are usually around 200 subscribers, but only 20 or 30 active posters. I’m guessing that there is little actual persuasion occurring among the active posters. However, the lurkers, the 90% who are subscribed but not actively participating, are influenced by the discussion that they are listening to. One of the chief benefits of the list that I have observed over the years has been that it’s a place where folks find out for the first time that there are people who take their faith seriously and who embrace the results of mainstream science. We have seen plenty of folks come on the list as recent “converts” from young-earth creationism to something more “progressive” and find that there are Christians who take their faith very seriously who think similarly. This often is a revelation. We on the list watch as they sort through these issues in a friendly environment, one that they don’t always find in their church or their school. We have watched some folks move from young-earth creationism to skepticism and atheism. Of course, this is disconcerting, and we hope that God will bring them back to a sincere and honest faith.

Issues of the environment and creation care also get a fair amount of time on the list. But even there, I’m not sure we’ve come very far. In 1995 and 1996 we encouraged discussion of some recently published PSCF articles that discussed environmentalism and evangelical responses to environmentalism. Virtually the same two sides exist now 15 years later with little progress having been made on coming to an evangelical consensus on those issues. This issue more than any other, probably because of the nature of our national debate, seems to bring out lots of emotion among list participants.

Overall, I think we have been successful in maintaining an on-line place for respectful discussion of controversial issues. Over the years we’ve tried to nip flame wars in the bud and promote Christian dialogue about controversial issues. We do occasionally slip into politics and social issues where the ASA represents not only divides that exist in our broader culture, but divides that exist in the church. Sometimes we can get hot-headed about those things. In many parts of the internet that hot-headedness translates into a viciousness and meanness that probably wouldn’t happen if you were talking to someone in the same room. ASA’s on-line discussion has been able to avoid that rancor for the most part.

For about 15 years now we have had our discussions via email. Every once in a while there have been calls to adopt a more “modern” internet technology than email (the grandaddy of them all). The last time an informal poll was conducted, now over two years ago, more than half desired to move to some other format, such as a web-based forum or blog. After over a year of discussion, planning, trying things out, etc., we’re going to take the plunge. We hope that this blog, ASA Voices, will replace the ASA email list. We’re going to try it for a while and leave the list turned off. We’re also introducing two other blogs, one devoted to discussion of PSCF articles, perhaps with the authors themselves, and one devoted to review and discussion of faith-science related books.

So please join in the conversation via blog comments. We will try to direct the discussion more actively in ASA Voices, but there will always be a thread that will feel like a little like the old list.


Member Recollections

Lawrence H. Johnston,  Professor of Physics, emeritus, 
University of Idaho, University of Idaho,  Moscow, Id 83843 (2009)

Randy Isaac, ASA Director comments: "At the Pacific Northwest ASA local section meeting in September 2007, David Willis gave a very nice talk on the early history of the ASA.  He also told us about Irwin's high voltage terminal demonstration. To connect the dots for the newer members of ASA, Irwin Moon started the Sermons from Science initiative and was very effective in demonstrating the wonder of God's creation. In the 30's Moody Bible Institute took responsibility for that organization, with Irwin still running it. He had a good connection with President Houghton of MBI and recommended to him that an organization of Christians in science be formed to help students and others in science understand the findings of science in the context of Christian faith. Houghton agreed and sent out an invitation to a list that I believe Irwin helped to compile. Alton Everest was one of the five who responded and came to Chicago in September 1941 and gave birth to ASA.

 Larry, our records show that you joined the ASA in 1950, making you one of the longest ASA members of all time. Is that correct? That would place you second behind Bob Fischer and tied with Norman Loux, James Buswell III, and Alfred Eckert. Did Irwin and Alton persuade you to join? Congratulations!"

picture of JohnstonLarry Johnston:" Yes, I remember Irwin Moon and his showings of Sermons from Science at the World's Fair on Treasure Island in SFO Bay in 1938. His big demonstration there was a big Tesla coil, and Irwin would stand on the million-volt terminal, and his hair would stand up, and he sprayed sparks out from his fingertips.  It was by far the most popular show at the fair.  Another film showed time-lapsed movies of growing plants, a technique they originated that was widely copied.  Fluorescent lamps made their debut at that fair, they lit the place with them, of many colors. Also I helped him and Alton Everest make the film God of the Atom.  For this we went up on Campus, and they took movies of our cyclotron at the time (the old 37 inch cyclotron, as I remember)  The 60" cyclotron was just being built.  The 184" one up on the hill was just a dream at that time. I have a picture of Ernest Lawrence, Arthur Compton, Vannevar Bush, James Conant, Carl Compton and Alfred Loomis when they were planning the work and financing of the 184" cyclotron." 
More on Larry at: <http://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/~johnston/HOMEPA~1.HTM>


updated June 1, 2012