Resources on Science and Christian Faith


This is the first of a series of posts introducing Resources on Science and Christian Faith from the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA). Future posts will feature the introductory essays associated with the various topics.

ASA began in 1941 as “a group of Christian scientific men devoting themselves to the task of reviewing, preparing, and distributing information on the authenticity, historicity, and scientific aspects of the Holy Scriptures in order that the faith of many in the Lord Jesus Christ may be firmly established.” [1] Today, with a similar but somewhat broader purpose, ASA seeks “to investigate any area relating Christian faith and science and to make known the results of such investigations for comment and criticism by the Christian community and by the scientific community.” [2] ASA has a 74 year history of dialogue and discussion. Reflection on ASA’s early history can be found in the 50th anniversary (1991) issue of its journal, Perspectives on Science and Faith [3-6].

Anyone interested in learning more about faith/science issues would profit from tapping into the rich set of resources available through the ASA. The most valuable of these resources is the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation (JASA), now called Perspectives on Science and Faith (PSCF). The ASA also sponsors annual meetings where members and key figures in the faith/science scholarly community present their latest thinking. In addition, ASA members meet in local sections around the country. In recent years these meetings have been audio and/or video recorded and made available on the Internet. There are also monographs, newsletters, and other publications such as the SEARCH series of articles on contemporary Christian scientists and the eZine, God and Nature. Seeing how ASA members have worked through these issues and settled on the various options could be instructive for those currently exploring these questions.

ASA desires to foster civil dialogue among Christians with differing perspectives. The most controversial debates in ASA’s history have been on the topic of evolutionary creation. As one of the oldest and largest groups of Christians in science worldwide, the annals of ASA document the story of believers grappling with the growing scientific database on evolution. While the ASA throughout its history has remained officially neutral on controversial topics where there is honest disagreement, including evolution/creation, its membership as a whole has moved toward acceptance of the prevailing scientific views, which is reflected in its publications and meetings. Papers, videos, and audio recordings document how this large body of Christians from differing perspectives has moved from hesitation about evolutionary science to widespread acceptance of evolution as God’s process in the natural world.

Although the earliest ASA scientists appeared to find data important to modern science in the Bible (e.g. age of the earth/universe, biological kinds) the general trajectory has been to recognize that the Bible’s primary purpose is redemptive-historical and not scientific and that it was written in the cultural milieu of the Ancient Near East where our modern scientific questions were not necessarily their questions. In other words the Bible is not a scientific textbook. Answers to most of our scientific questions will not be found in the Bible. This is not to say that ASA members do not take the Bible seriously however. ASA members believe that the Bible continues to inform the Christian worldview and the theology of Creation and God’s interaction with the universe. These are both relevant to the scientific endeavor.

A second trajectory is that ASA members have tended to become more accepting of the well-established results of mainstream science. Early ASA scientists tended to be somewhat suspicious of the claims of mainstream science, especially in the area of origins. In part, this is a simple corollary of the first trajectory. Many in the ASA no longer see the Bible as teaching ideas that are contrary to science proper. Thus, while there is seldom unanimity on any scientific issue, the majority of ASA members hold to an old earth/universe, biological evolution, and even human evolution. There is also serious engagement of the multiverse, evolutionary psychology, and the latest ideas of neurobiology. Recognizing the distinction between science as a description of the way God governs the universe and scientism (also known as scientific/atheistic naturalism or scientific materialism), which misuses science to make scientific explanations ultimate explanations, has allowed ASA members to embrace scientific claims without fear of abandoning a belief in God’s role in creation.

ASA received a grant from the BioLogos Foundation as part of the Evolution and Christian Faith (ECF) project. It was entitled “Seeing Evolutionary Creation as a Viable Evangelical Perspective: Seventy Years of ASA Resources.” ASA is seeking to make its resources more broadly available to the general public. Audio/visual materials from recent ASA annual meetings are on the Internet and have now been added to an already existing database of JASA/PSCF. A rich metadata tagging/indexing system allows us to use search tools to present these resources in many different useful formats. We are in the process of developing some guided tours through these resources with introductory comments, background information, and even study questions for individual or group reflection. Since ASA provides an open forum on faith/science controversies these resources can help people work through the issues involved. At this point there are three nearly complete collections: “Getting Started in the Evolution/Creation Discussion,” “Reading Genesis,” and “Adam and Eve and Human Origins.” Preliminary work has been done additional topics: “Age of the Earth,” “Intelligent Design,” “Environmental Stewardship,”  “Divine Action,” “Philosophy of Science,” “History of Science”, “Body and Soul,” “Bioethics,” “ASA History,” “ASA Authors”, “Annual Meeting,” and “Recent Issues of PSCF.”  These are all accessible from the Resources on Science and Christian Faith (RSCF) page at  http://www.asa3.org/ASA/resources. There is opportunity for reader comments and ratings that eventually will allow the most useful resources to be identified by the learning community.

Please join us in this quest that takes seriously both God’s Word and God’s world.

ENDNOTES

1. From the title page of Modern science and Christian Faith, F. Alton Everest, ed. (1948, 1951)
2. For example, see the 2014 ASA brochure http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/network.asa3.org/resource/resmgr/Media/ASA2014Brochure.pdf
3. Darryl G. Hart, “The Fundamentalists Origins of the American Scientific Affiliation” PSCF 43:238-248 (1991) http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1991/PSCF12-91Hart.pdf
4. John W. Haas, Jr., “Irwin A. Moon, F. Alton Everest and Will H. Houghton: Early Links between the Moody Bible Institute and the American Scientific Affiliation” PSCF 43:249-258 (1991) http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1991/PSCF12-91Haas.html
5. Mark A. Kalthoff, “The Harmonious Dissonance of Evangelical Scientists: Rhetoric and Reality in the Early Decades of the ASA” PSCF 43:259-272 (1991) http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1991/PSCF12-91Kalthoff.html
6. Richard H. Bube, “The Future of the ASA: Challenges and Pitfalls” PSCF 43:272-277 (1991)
http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1991/PSCF12-91Bube.html

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