After 75 years, evangelicals in science still debate Darwin, Bible and evolution

This past July the annual conference of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), an organization of Christians in the sciences, offered a high-powered speaker lineup on the human brain and mind: Justin Barrett, director of the psychological science program at Fuller Theological Seminary; Audrey Bowden, assistant professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University; Edward Davis, historian of science at Messiah College; Douglas Lauffenburger, biological engineering professor at M.I.T.; William Newsome, director of Stanford’s Neurosciences Institute; and Los Alamos National Laboratory physicist Roger Wiens.

The equally intriguing 2017 conference, July 28-31 at Colorado School of Mines, will focus on environmental science and -- yes –- “climate change.” And on Oct. 11 the organization will be marking the 75th anniversary of its founding with a banquet at Wheaton College in Illinois. The current issue of the ASA quarterly, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (check here), is devoted to the group’s history, and Colorado State University molecular biologist Terry Gray has posted a series of historical articles.

Full membership in ASA is restricted to persons with bachelor’s degrees or beyond in the sciences who affirm the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds and belief in “the divine inspiration, trustworthiness and authority of the Bible in matters of faith and conduct.” Most are evangelical-type Protestants.

Though members’ interests range from chaos theory to entomology to the morality of fracking, the most heated debates usually swirl around Darwin, evolution, creation, the Book of Genesis, origin of the universe and of earthly species and, therefore, what it means to be human. An ASA resource list can be found here.

ASA as an organization does not take stands on these and other contested issues. However, in the early years, participants were mostly Bible literalists who contrasted belief in God’s creation over against evolutionary  theories.

Subsequent turning points:

* The 1949 meeting featured two papers by Columbia University geochemist J. Laurence Kulp with radiometric dating evidence that planet earth is billions of years old, critiquing  biblicist claims for a very brief chronology. Kulp was elected that year to the ASA executive council.

* As the idea of that vastly long chronology gained widespread support among members, “young earth” advocates broke away in 1963 to form the Creation Research Society.

* The same year as that schism, Stanford physicist Richard Bube sparked major debate by proposing a reinterpretation of the Bible’s “inerrancy.” He then  became the influential editor of the ASA journal.

* More recent times produced vigorous pro and con discussion on whether microbiology, information theory and probability math support “intelligent design” thinking, over against assertions that the development of nature was purely random with no intelligent cause or input.

A 2010  member survey showed growing acceptance of “theistic evolution,” with 61 percent of  883 respondents believing that “homo sapiens evolved through natural processes from ancestral forms in common with primates.” Nonetheless, secular-minded defenders of Darwin target ASA because members continue to poke holes in certain evolutionary claims on both scientific and philosophical grounds.

In 2010, a special issue of the ASA journal launched the still-raging debate over whether the latest genetic research counters the Bible-based belief that Adam and Eve were humanity’s two original parents.

Thus, the anniversary review of ASA history provides a point of entry for newswriters to re-examine these perennially contentious and fascinating matters. Prime sources for such coverage would include just-retired ASA Executive Director Randy Isaac (an Illinois physics Ph.D. and former systems technology vice president at IBM), and Ronald Numbers, University of Wisconsin science historian and author of “The Creationists.”

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