Readers of CSR and these blogs are likely familiar with the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) and its mission. If not, or if it’s been a while, I’d like to give you an introduction or an update. I have been a member of the ASA since, well…a long time. I am a Fellow, past Executive Council President, and I was tapped to write the entry on the organization in the Dictionary of Christianity and Science (Zondervan, 2017). So, I’m a fan. Quoting from the dictionary (because I couldn’t write it any better myself)…
The origin of the ASA is linked to early twentieth century evangelical and fundamentalist Christian concerns about science. The ASA was founded in 1941 by a small group of science educators and industry scientists invited by Moody Bible Institute President Will H. Houghton to consider organizing annual conferences to help pastors and students better understand the relationship between science and religion… After the 1925 Scopes Trial over public teaching of evolution, many “Bible-science” groups emerged to either provide a scientific Christian alternative to evolution or to promote scientific proofs of the Bible’s veracity, generally advocating a particular understanding of the Bible and science. The founders of the ASA determined the organization would not represent any particular approach to faith and science matters beyond its core beliefs. The ASA quickly became the principal evangelical forum for debating evolution, flood geology, and the age of the Earth (p. 38).
But that was your great grandfather’s ASA. Seriously, the great grandson of one of the founders was recently in my freshman seminar! Members of the organization these days are exploring connections between Christianity and multiple STEMy topics: global change, medical and environmental ethics, appropriate technology and sustainable development, future technology, psychology and neuroscience, philosophy and history of science, etc. Of course, many members remain interested in origins questions.
The diversity of interests and scope of engagement is evident in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith(PSCF), the ASA’s quarterly, peer-review journal. Editor-in-Chief James Peterson wrote in the ASA 2019 Impact Report,
Our contributors and primary audience are thought leaders in the interaction between the best of the sciences and Christian faith… As to breadth of specific expertise, authors the last two years have had their primary training in astrophysics, biology, computation, engineering, environmental studies, exegesis, genetics, geology, math, neurology, paleontology, pharmaceuticals, philosophy, physics, psychology, social policy, social work, theology, and even the classics. Home institutions the last two years have included 16 CCCU colleges and universities, 17 state universities, 7 private universities, and one seminary.
Peterson has edited volumes devoted to special topics such as addiction and therapies, food and nutrition, transhumanism, astronomy, artificial intelligence, Alzheimer’s disease, and in the latest issue, COVID-19. These links will take you right to the online table of contents for each issue where one can download pdfs of each article. The latest issue contents are available only to members until the next issue is published. Resources of the ASA, such as journal articles, conference talks, slides, and videos can be found using the Resources on Science and Christian Faith portal. Each issue of PSCF includes reviews of books that would be of interest to readers arranged in the categories of environment, ethics, history of science, origins, science and religion, social science, technology, theology, and various STEM disciplines. Resources on Science and Christian Faith portal.
That brings us to the contents of This Pandemic Issue, which I have been reading with great interest since its March 2021 release. Rebecca Dielschneider, biologist at Providence University College, Manitoba, opens the issue with a helpful guide to Vaccine Hesitancy: Christian Reasons and Responses. Despite the vaccination as “one of the greatest life-saving medical achievements of all time,” she reports (what we all know) that vaccine hesitancy is prevalent in the Christian community (in the USA and Canada). One by one, she addresses five reasons for hesitancy with corresponding vaccine-affirming responses, defended with biological and theological rigor. As one example:
Reason: “Vaccines interfere with divine providence.”
Response: “Vaccines, like other medical advancements, are forms of divine providence.” (p. 5)
Pandemics in Need of a Christian Response, by physiologist/pharmacologist Luke Janssen, contains an overview of biological characteristics of infectious disease, a historical review of past and recent pandemics (smallpox, plague, Ebola, influenza, HIV, COVID-19), and questions that should be discussed by natural and social scientists, theologians and ethicists, and policy makers.
With academic backgrounds in both biochemistry and theology, Christopher Southgate offers a primer in theodicy in Explorations of God and COVID-19 (indeed, he is Professor of Christian Theodicy at the University of Exeter, UK). Christopher argues that getting at answers in theodicy requires asking the right questions, that is, questions biblical theology can actually address. He draws from the widely-watched COVID-19 BioLogos web event featuring N.T. Wright and Francis Collins, theologians Walter Brueggemann and Shelly Rambo, philosopher Diogenes Allen, and poet Malcolm Guite to develop a strategy of “three-lensed seeing” the pandemic (or any such trauma) through perspectives of old creation, Cross, and eschaton.
Mark Strand, Professor of Pharmacy Practice at North Dakota State University, recounts his efforts at public outreach on the COVID-19 pandemic by producing a series of fourteen Facebook Live videos followed up by a survey to evaluate their effectiveness.
It would be a mistake for PSCF readers to skip Jim Peterson’s monthly editorials. They are only tangentially introductions to the issue’s articles and authors. Jim is the Schumann Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Benne Center for Religion and Society at Roanoke College, Virginia, and the author of Changing Human Nature- Ecology, Ethics, Genes, and God (Eerdmans, 2010). Jim writes with authority on the ethics of genetic engineering and therapies, and theology-science connections in general. Because of Jim, I know that CRISPR has nothing to do with fried chicken.
ASA and CSCA has held annual meetings each summer since 1946, with the pandemic forcing a postponement from last summer. To be practical and safe, the summer 2021 meeting will be a virtual event but as close to a live version as possible in zoom world. There will be plenary speakers and breakout rooms for parallel sessions (talks submitted members and guests). This meeting will be a collaboration of the ASA and the Creation Project of the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. The program theme: The Gift of Scientia, The Body of Christ and the Common Good-Scientists and Theologians Working Together, will explore understandings and applications of the Christian doctrine of creation. Plenary speakers will include C. John Collins, Lydia Jaeger, David Livingstone, Hans Madueme and Christina Bieber Lake. Scheduled for July 29 – August 1, 2021, more information will be available at the meeting website in the coming weeks.