The American Scientific Affiliation: From Tolerant to Anti-creationist and Anti-intelligent Design

by Dr. Jerry Bergman on October 19, 2022
Featured in Answers in Depth
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Often, organizations that begin as tolerant to a range of views on creation become less so as evolutionists gain positions of power in the organization. The example detailed here is the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA).

ASA is an organization of scientists and others involved in science-related disciplines. Their stated purpose was “to investigate any area relating Christian faith and science.” The focus was on scientists or science teachers that were Christians who wanted to improve the quality of Christian evangelism on the subject of religion and science. While their earliest issues included theistic evolutionary and old-earth papers, it was once also possible for biblical creationists to be published.

The ASA published a journal, The Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, beginning in 1949, which was renamed Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith in 2008. As its name implies, the journal covers science topics related to the Christian faith. ASA members included both evangelicals and members of mainline churches, including Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists.

History

The ASA was formed in 1941 under the auspices of the fundamentalist Moody Bible Institute through the leadership of science popularizer Dr. Irwin A. Moon (1907–1986).1 His goal as a science-geek youth was to become a physicist. Along the way, Moon decided to become a pastor, even turning down a full-ride scholarship to an Ivy League University to fulfill his goal. In his work as a pastor, beginning in 1931, Moon used scientific concepts to illustrate his sermons.2 Dr. Moon, founder of the Sermons from Science and Moody Institute of Science (1945–1996), produced 39 educational science films which won 27 national and international awards.3 His science presentations were extremely popular in churches from the 1950s through the 1990s.

Moody Bible Institute supported Moon’s organization, Moody Institute of Science, until 1996. The films are all still available from Moody Video and some have been posted on YouTube. The legacy of Dr. Moon lives on today through the work of Illustra Media, which produces intelligent design films.

The Founding of the Organization

Dr. Moon talked Moody Bible Institute president William H. Houghton into inviting a number of scientists with similar conservative Christian views to Chicago to discuss ASA’s formation. F. Alton Everest (a science teacher at Oregon State University in Corvallis, described as a conservative Baptist), Peter W. Stoner (a math professor from Pasadena College), Chemistry professor Russell D. Sturgis of Ursinus College, John P. Van Haitsma of Calvin College, and industrial chemist Irving A. Cowperthwaite attended.4

Of course, the goal of evolution was to replace the theism worldview with the evolution worldview.

From the beginning, ASA “looked to the scientific world for approval,” a stance which eventually led to its downfall.5 An example was the position voiced by Everest that “there was no need to attack the theory of evolution: only its materialist implications needed to be challenged.”6 Of course, the goal of evolution was to replace the theism worldview with the evolution worldview.7 And the only way its materialist implications can be challenged is to challenge evolution, which, it turns out, is easy to do—just rely on the peer-reviewed science.8 As fewer scientists challenged evolution, nominal Christian colleges at first tolerated it under the guise of academic freedom. Eventually, evolution became widely accepted by Christian colleges and their faculty. The ASA membership reflected this change. The ASA eventually moved from tolerating evolution to open opposition to creation and intelligent design, the dominant position ASA accepts today.

ASA Begins to Grow in Membership

Professor Everest served as president of ASA during its first decade. Under his leadership, the ASA grew from 5 to 220 members, and by 1961, its membership had grown to 860.9 As of 2022, the membership is over 1,500. The group was next led by Professor Russell L. Mixter. He taught in the science department at the evangelical Wheaton College from 1928 to 1979 and edited the ASA Journal from 1965 to 1968. Mixter is noted for leading ASA away from anti-evolutionism to progressive creationism.

The organization frequently ran seminars at venues such as Baylor University; the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion in Cambridge, England; and The Catholic University of America.

Opposes Creationism

ASA also critically evaluated the works of prominent creationists, including George McCready Price (1870–1963) and Harry Rimmer (1890–1952). Mixter’s influence and the inner circle that was affiliated with Wheaton College led it to reject creationism in favor, first of progressive creation, then of theistic evolution, encouraging the acceptance of evolution among evangelicals. They became increasingly hostile to the creation worldview. Examples include two very hostile reviews of the Genesis Flood book and, in 1969, a highly critical commentary by Free University of Amsterdam Dutch Reformed geologist J. R. van de Fliert. Van de Fliert called Dr. Whitcomb and Dr. Morris “pseudo-scientific” pretenders. The journal even ran boldfaced sidebars by evangelical geologists applauding van de Fliert’s bare-knuckled approach against Morris and Whitcomb’s work (van de Fliert, 1969). This was one more step that added to the American Scientific Affiliation’s gradual shift from strict creationism to progressive creationism to theistic evolution, and now they are increasingly hostile to both creation and intelligent design.10 This is the environment that creationists have faced from fellow Christians after 1960.

Efforts to Please Evolutionists Fail

In the late 1950s, Mixter edited a book which advocated their version of theistic evolution and for which they “attempted in vain to interest a secular press.”11 The ASA correctly recognized that a “mainstream imprimatur would greatly increase the odds of attention from other scientists.”12 They learned that the secular press and secular scientists were not interested in any form of theistic evolution. They were, by and large, interested in refuting all forms of creation, including theistic evolution. The fact is, not “much of the biblical account of creation could be maintained inside a scientific world that completely accepted Darwinism.”13 Furthermore, although “Darwin maintained that God could have created the initial handful of creatures from which all other animals evolved, most of the public and scientific world saw Darwin’s theory as a direct challenge to creationism.”14

“The half-open door to evolutionism” did not “bring any rewards of recognition or any increase in prestige for the evangelical purposes of Everest and the other theologically conservative scientists who gathered every year to listen to papers on evolution, biology, and social science and to tour geological sites on field trips.”15 Despite “the earnest efforts of the ASA to carry its message to the mainstream, this potential audience remained indifferent or even hostile. Like the deluge geologists, mainstream science rejected the ASA’s ambivalence about first principles and spurned the ambiguities of their compromises.”16 Another example is that ASA requested membership in the premier scientific association in the world, The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and was turned down, not once but twice—once in 1951 and again in 1954. As Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin said, we “cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.” He explains that naturalism is thus the fundamental ground rule of science, and the ASA was not going to get in through that door even with some theistic evolution amalgam.

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.

It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.17

My Experience

I joined the ASA in 1970, and from 1978 to 2009, published 27 articles in their journal Perspectives. The vast majority of my submissions were accepted, and I was elected a fellow of ASA on April 30, 1983. I had a good relationship with a number of ASA leaders, including H. Harold Hartzler, Walter L. Bradley, Richard Bube, Harvard University Historian of Science Owen Gingerich, and especially Dr. Walter Hearn, who frequently attended their conferences.

All of this changed when ASA began publishing articles that attacked intelligent design, using some of the same arguments that atheists used (claims of alleged poor design, such as the backwards retina, and the argument that mutations and natural selection can explain what looks like design). It seemed to me that the only difference between atheists and ASA writers is the ASA worldview uses a thin veneer of theism to cover their evolution. I realized my support for ASA was only helping the position I have spent the last 40 years of my life effectively critiquing.

Occasionally, the many lethal problems with molecules-to-man evolution even get into the secular literature.

Occasionally, the many lethal problems with molecules-to-man evolution even get into the secular literature. One example is the September 3, 2022, issue of New Scientist that admitted, “The identity of the species that gave rise to all humanity is one of the biggest mysteries in human evolution.”18 This admission reveals the fact that all of the many claimed examples of human evolution could not be ancestors of humans! The article then shows why the past claims of human evolution are problematic.

A Nasty Review of My Book on Darwin

Another problem was a review by Dr. Sara Joan Miles published in the June 2012 issue of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith of my book The Dark Side of Darwin. Miles is a professor at, ironically, a Baptist college. In short, this so-called review is an irresponsible hatchet job. All of my major claims are very well supported by the peer-reviewed literature. As a professor of 43 years, one requirement of my profession is to determine if students actually read the book on which they wrote a book report. It is clear that Miles at best skimmed my book. Furthermore, it is doubtful that she has read any comprehensive scholarly book about Darwin the man, such as Janet Browne’s two-volume set.

I briefly responded to her review and sent a copy to the current editor of Perspectives who declined to publish my response. This did not surprise me, because the previous editor turned down everything I sent him for what I concluded were frivolous reasons, and eventually he never even bothered to reject or even correspond with me about my submissions. This is one of many examples of ASA’s growing hostility against those who find major problems with Darwinism and write about those problems.

The author of the review, Sara Joan Miles, earned her PhD in 1988 for the thesis “Evolution and Natural Law in the Synthetic Science of Clémence Royer.” Royer was an outspoken atheist and a self-taught French scholar, mostly known for her controversial 1862 French translation of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. She challenged religious revelation and discussed the application of natural selection to humans, espousing eugenics due to the negative consequences of protecting the weak and infirm.19

Miles is currently emeritus professor of biology and history at Eastern University and also posts on the anti-creation/intelligent design website BioLogos. The faith statement of Eastern University espouses a literal view of at least the creation of the first man and woman.

We believe that the Bible . . . is inspired by God and serves as the rule of faith and practice, being the authoritative witness to the truth of God embodied in Jesus Christ. . . . We believe that God created human beings, male and female, in the image of God as an expression of God’s eternal love.

Background to Miles’ Review of The Dark Side of Charles Darwin

Dr. Miles’ review of my book uses the same technique to denigrate my book that she accuses me of using: ad hominem. For example, to demean my research, she calls me an “amateur historian.”

As of this writing, I have over 1,700 publications. I have published many books and articles in peer-reviewed history journals. The Dark Side of Charles Darwin was the result of 30 years of research and reading over 60 biographies and articles on Darwin. My book has close to 1,000 footnotes. Before it was published, it was peer-reviewed by several doctoral-level historians who specialize in Darwin. I have taught history at the college level.

She stated that my book resulted from what I found in the literature to “bolster what he apparently believed before he began his research.” But the opposite is true. In the past, I had published articles laudatory of Darwin, but as I researched him further, my conclusions changed drastically. My book is based on an extensive review of the literature, and my conclusions came from the peer-reviewed literature or from Darwin’s own published writings.

She also inferred that my thesis was that “the academic/scholarly community has engaged in a conspiracy to suppress the ‘real’ story of Charles Darwin,” when my conclusions and the evidence I cited resulted from an extensive review of mainline, well-documented, scholarly literature and Darwin’s own writings.

This was the last straw. I realized that supporting an organization that aggressively opposes what I stand for and have, at great cost, worked hard to achieve, is wrong. Still, I miss the many very good people I worked with at ASA for almost half a century.

Conclusion

The story of ASA is only one of many that illustrate the enormous harm Darwin has caused to education, academia, the media, the movie industry, and society as a whole. It also illustrates the common problem that letting Darwinism in the door, even in a historically Christian-based organization, begins the slippery slope toward a full-fledged anti-creation position. We have seen this happen repeatedly in colleges that once were Christian based that have not only become secular, but now oppose doctrines at the core of Christianity, such as the historical creation account in Genesis.

Footnotes

  1. James Gilbert, Redeeming Culture: American Religion in an Age of Science (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997), 147.
  2. KY Baptist, “Moody Bible Institute (Educational Films),” Internet Archive, October 6, 2020, https://archive.org/details/moody-science-videos-09-journey-of-life.
  3. “Irwin Moon,” CreationWiki, last updated August 4, 2015, https://creationwiki.org/Irwin_Moon.
  4. Terry Gray, “The History of the American Scientific Affiliation,” BioLogos, May 12, 2016, https://biologos.org/articles/the-history-of-the-american-scientific-affiliation.
  5. Gilbert, Redeeming Culture, 148.
  6. Gilbert, Redeeming Culture, 148.
  7. Michael Ruse, Darwinism as Religion: What Literature Tells Us about Evolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016).
  8. Jerry Bergman, The Three Major Pillars of Darwinism Demolished (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2022).
  9. “Irwin Moon,” CreationWiki.
  10. Ronald Numbers, The Creationists (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), 180–181, 191.
  11. Russell Mixter, Evolution and Christian Thought Today (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1959).
  12. Gilbert, Redeeming Culture, 160.
  13. Gilbert, Redeeming Culture, 160.
  14. Michael Green, Ideas and Movements That Shaped America From the Bill of Rights to “Occupy Wall Street” (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2015), 293.
  15. Gilbert, Redeeming Culture, 166.
  16. Gilbert, Redeeming Culture, 166.
  17. Richard Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” NY Review of Books, January 7, 1997, http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/Nave-html/Faithpathh/lewontin.html.
  18. Colin Barras, “The Search for Ancestor X,” New Scientist 255, no. 3402 (September 3–9, 2022): 46–49.
  19. Joy Harvey, “Almost a Man of Genius”: Clémence Royer, Feminism, and Nineteenth-Century Science (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1997), xv, 374.

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