Reposted with permission from AITSE
Report on the 2012 American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) Annual Meeting
About a year ago AITSE and Uncommon Descent featured an article that, between it and the follow-on posts, attracted 3773 hits and 182 comments. Why this high level of interest? Simply because the article pointed out that some of what happened at the ASA 2011 annual meeting near Chicago was not consistent with the values that the ASA posts on their website. There the ASA state that “We are committed to providing an open forum where [scientific] controversies can be discussed without fear of unjust condemnation…” But, at times the atmosphere communicated from the podium was one of thinly-veiled hostility against those who question aspects of consensus science. Details can be found in the original article. However, just as “he whose ear heeds wholesome admonition will abide among the wise,” so perhaps the mark of a good organization is in how they respond to constructive criticism.
And the ASA has. The steps they have taken towards rectifying the situation last year have been remarkable. First, early in the 2012 conference a moderator stated that the purpose of ASA is for Christians to be able to discuss diverging opinions on science without fear of censure. The conference participants were encouraged to be gentle, kind, humble and generally helpful to one another. The tone was set. And the conference continued as it began.
The topic of this conference was “Science, Faith, and the Media,” thus many of the plenary session topics did not directly pertain to science. Nonetheless, on the whole, the talks were helpful to those engaged in educating the public on matters of scientific importance. But the one presentation that specifically addressed a scientific topic was truly inspirational. Dr. John E. Johnson from the Scripps Research Institute gavea lecture on bacteriophage, viruses that infect bacteria. He called them elegantly programed nanomachines. May not sound like a riveting topic, but it was. Personally, I could have listened to him all day. Watch the videos and be amazed.
With regard to demonstrating a friendly, open atmosphere, the parallel sessions were equally impressive. They reflected the range of scientific opinions, and at least in my hearing, there were no comments about scientists with viewpoints differing from the speakers being “scientifically or theologically illiterate.” In fact, I was told that scientists from a range of viewpoints regarding evolution were specifically invited to attend and give presentations. They did and those interactions I witnessed were warm and friendly.
So, does the ASA have a way to go? Of course. First, the book table could have reflected a broader scientific point of view than it did. But, assurances were given that this was noted and will be corrected in future years. Next, one might suggest that an ID-friendly person be recruited to be an administrator on their Facebook page. After all, the Facebook posts pertaining to evolution are decidedly one-sided in nature with few if any links to organizations other than BioLogos and Faraday Institute. The same could be said for the movie night–the movie was distinctly one-sided. Perhaps in the future we could be exposed to movies from other points of view. Finally, in the future one may wish to see scientists with a greater variety of viewpoints on the ASA council. But then, that requires the cooperation of the scientists in question. Regardless, one would hope that this effort on the part of ASA to increase mutual respect despite diverging opinions will not go unnoticed.
Overall AITSE salutes ASA. They responded to criticism and made great strides towards doing what they say they do. The atmosphere made it possible for everyone to safely explore, ask questions, and learn from others–after all, which of us claims to know everything? The resultant open discussion between scientists can only advance science and science education. For this reason, AITSE now has confidence to send those specifically interested in faith and science to ASA in the future–and to work with them in the present.