Thirty years ago, I matriculated from Wheaton College
, a "fundamentalist" school 25 miles west of Chicago. Well, actually the faculty and student body never called it fundamentalist, that's what the big TV station called us whenever they did their "local news specials", and waited for the opening prayer at mandatory chapel to pan the audience for the obligatory "every head bowed" shot. In actuality, Wheaton was proud of its "progressive status" among the consortium
of 13 small liberal-arts Christian colleges, promoting an "old-earth creationism" in contrast to the 24/6 "young earth creationism" usually associated with Bible colleges. They had even built their then-new science building with a rotating display
of a student-excavated mastodon skeleton ("Perry") to reinforce their commitment to older-than-6000-year bones. And my science profs proudly displayed their membership and articles in the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation
, the "non-YEC" Christian society for scientists. I faithfully read the journal at the library, feeling not as wealthy as my geology-major roommate who had a subscription. And a particularly good essay in a science class might get the rare praise "perhaps you can submit it to JASA."
So it is with some astonishment that recently I received an email asking why attendance at ASA meetings has "grayed" so much, with one reporting that only 5 in a crowd of 80-100 were below the age of 40. A mail-in survey of 53% of the members found that less than 15% were below 40, (and apparently not desirous of attending meetings.) An anecdotal survey of other Christian affiliations of scientists found them with larger percentages of young scientists. So what ailment has afflicted the ASA?
One colleague suggested that ASA was designed as an anti-YEC affiliation, since with publication of Henry Morris' 1961 book The Genesis Flood
, YEC was taking the evangelical world by storm. Accordingly, as YEC evangelism stalled out, so did ASA membership, leaving behind a graying coterie of scientists fighting yesterday's battles.
While there is some truth in this analysis, JASA didn't spend most of its page count debunking YEC. (A random issue from Dec 1981 found 4/15 anti-YEC articles, or about a 30% ratio that has stayed relatively constant.) Nor did my geology roommate join ASA to fight YEC, he did it to talk to other Christian geologists. That's the principle reason anyone joins an affiliation--networking. So why was Christian networking so important in 1980 but not in 2010?
Another colleague suggested that young, career-minded scientists have to network so much more nowadays, that they don't have time for an organization that spends an inordinate amount of time on history and philosophy. So there just isn't any practical benefit for an untenured scientist to join. To test this hypothesis, I downloaded the most recent JASA table-of-contents:
Editorial: Leegwater, Arie. “On Tipping Points and Christian Scholarship,” 61:2, 65, J 2009.
Articles: Brooke, John Hedley. “Charles Darwin on Religion,” 61:2, 67, J 2009.
Davis, Edward B. “Prophet of Science—Part One: Arthur Holly Compton on Science, Freedom, Religion, and
Morality,” 61:2, 73, J 2009.
Heun, Matthew Kuperus, David Warners, and Henry E. DeVries II. “Campus Carbon Neutrality as an
Interdisciplinary Pedagogical Tool,” 61:2, 85, J 2009.
Hill, Carol A. and Stephen O. Moshier. “Flood Geology and the Grand Canyon: A Critique,” 61:2, 99, J 2009.
Essay Book Review by Author: Rudwick, Martin J. S. Worlds Before Adam: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Reform, 61:2,116, J
2009. (Davis A. Young)
Essay Book Review by Reviewer: Young, Davis A. “The Historical Reconstruction of Geohistorical Reconstruction.” Review of Worlds Before Adam:
The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Reform, by Martin J. S. Rudwick, 61:2,116, J 2009.
Tabulating topics, the editorial is talking about the sociology of science, while the first two articles are history of science topics. The third article is on ethics, and only the fourth an anti-YEC apologetic. The book reviewed twice is on the history of science, with perhaps some application to anti-YEC apologetics, seeing as the latest battle has YEC authors recruiting Reformation-era scholars to their side. None of these articles are suitable for the "peer-reviewed" literature of a hard-science journal, but are directed at the soft-sciences of history, sociology and philosophy. Fully a third fall in the category of anti-YEC rhetoric.
So while there is a grain of truth in this argument, thirty years
ago every one of us budding scientists would have been insulted if we
were accused of carefully calculating our career track to exclude
our faith. If anything, we college students were much more idealistic
than our aged professors, and found JASA highly relevant to the synthesis of our science with our faith. Why then are today's college students not finding it relevant?
That brings me to my hypothesis.
The ASA, which began 60 years ago under different circumstances, has
become for all intents and purposes, the ATA, the American
Being a TE was cutting edge in Christian circles 30 years ago
when I attended Wheaton, but has now become a secular liability. The academic conflict, documented by Expelled
, has now become so severe that only tenured profs can
admit to being part of any theistic society.
So right away, going to an ASA meeting requires tenure. And tenure is a
6 or 7 year process after a PhD, which is itself a 6 or 7 year process
and we have 22-yr bachelor-of-science grad becoming a 36-yr old tenured prof,
which can easily become 40-yr if one had to take a postdoc or two before
tenure-track and this explains the cutoff as well as any other theory.
In addition to this threshold effect, there's the unnecessary
baggage of TE that is making young people avoid this solution
That is, TE was an attempt to remain "evangelical" (holding the Bible in
high esteem) while continuing to be a scientist who subscribes to
Darwin. This compromise was in itself costly, with valuable resources,
time, and argumentation consumed defending the position against both
secular humanists and ardent creationists. If the benefits of being TE
(being a member of an exciting church) are removed, then who would want
to pay the cost? Yet churches are no longer as anti-Darwin as they used
to be, post-modernism and emergent churches are fine with Darwin, so the
benefit to being TE is rapidly diminishing.
anecdote. Last year I attended a "Faith and Science" seminar at Princeton sponsored by the Westerly Road church
. The three panelists included two "young" scientists, possibly graduates of Princeton, and a prof from Westminster Seminary. When the moderator asked how they combined their science with their
faith, one replied that "I just do science", and the other opined that
"my faith isn't shaken by science", amplifying with an ethically disturbing
scientific discovery that they just accepted at face value. In other words, there
appears to be no connection between science and faith, and apparently, no need to integrate them.
So make the cost high, remove the benefits, and what young scientist wants
to join the ATA?