According to Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, a plenary session speaker at the July 2011 American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) annual meeting, anthropogenic climate change is a scientific fact and the reason that many Evangelical Christians do not believe it is that the “science is complex and they cannot see it happening in their own backyards.” In her opinion, Christian groups are exacerbating the problem by “lying and spreading false information” about global warming, even though “98% of scientists agree that it is settled science.” She said that this is an example of where science and faith are in conflict (?) and we need to educate our churches about the issue so that they understand that questioning anthropogenic global climate change is anti-science. Of course, it seems to me, that if they are willfully lying about the issue, questioning must also be anti-Christian.
Now, hear me accurately. I am not saying that anthropogenic climate change is or is not true—I am not a climate scientist. And I do agree with Dr. Hayhoe that we should be responsible in how we use the Earth’s resources and mindful of those who are victims of natural disaster. I have implemented her only suggestion for remediation by using Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs and have even gone one better—I walk to the grocery store. But seriously, I do not consider it to be anti-science or unChristian to be intrigued that Dr. Ivar Giaever, Nobel prize winning physicist, and Dr. Harold Lewis, physics professor emeritus from University of California, Santa Barbara resigned their memberships at the American Physical Society (APS) over the APS’s refusal to consider all the scientific evidence surrounding this issue. I believe that evidence should be heard and considered and that those who do not agree with the politically correct consensus should not be labeled as uneducated or unChristian. Naturally, after a talk like this, those who had questions about the veracity of manmade global climate change or the cost/benefit ratio of governmental policies on controlling carbon dioxide emissions did not feel free to ask questions.
As a current ASA member, I was in attendance at the ASA meeting entitled, Science-Faith Synergy: Glorifying God and Serving Humanity. The result is that I have become very concerned about this organization. It appears that the ASA has forgotten who they are supposed to be: “a fellowship of men and women of science and disciplines that can relate to science who share a common fidelity to the Word of God and a commitment to integrity in the practice of science.” Instead, the meeting was explicitly slanted towards promotion of consensus science, theistic evolution (TE) and what appeared to be a very watered down version of Christianity. ASA says that they have “no official position on evolution” and are a Christian organization that “accept the divine inspiration, trustworthiness and authority of the Bible in matters of faith and conduct,” but the content of several of the talks and the attitude of some of the speakers at the conference failed to embrace this commitment. The below paragraph was taken from the ASA website:
As an organization, the ASA does not take a position when there is honest disagreement between Christians on an issue. We are committed to providing an open forum where [scientific] controversies can be discussed without fear of unjust condemnation. Legitimate differences of opinion among Christians who have studied both the Bible and science are freely expressed within the Affiliation in a context of Christian love and concern for truth.
Although this statement projects the appearance of an environment where integrity in science and scientists who want to discuss their thoughts and follow the evidence where it leads could thrive, this is far from accurate. The purported openness to discussion of scientific controversies expressed on the ASA website is clearly disingenuous.
In fact, the organization appears to have strayed far from both their commitment to integrity in science (telling the whole story) and their Christian identity and is now ostracizing both scientists who question consensus science and those who are self-identified evangelical Christians. As a result, science-based reservations about evolution, global warming, and other controversial topics were not openly discussed. One scientist, who believes that Intelligent Design (ID) theory has merit from a scientific viewpoint, identified himself to me with the words, “feels like hostile territory here.” Speakers who made lock-step derogatory remarks about “conservative Christians,” “creationists,” and “ID people” doubtless fueled this perceived hostility.
Of the presenters I heard, Dr. Mark Winslow of Southern Nazarene University in Oklahoma was particularly offensive, labeling anyone who does not accept all aspects of evolutionary theory as “scientifically and theologically illiterate.” His paper was on how 15 Christian students moved from an “immature Young Earth perspective” with “little tolerance for ambiguity” to an “adult faith” that can “accommodate degrees of dissonance” after accepting the “authority” of the “trained evolutionist” professor. Take home message: If one questions aspects of evolution, one is an immature Christian. Those who are faced with educating recalcitrant churches full of Darwin-doubters were counseled to show patience until the creationists come to understand that the scientific evidence should be more important than the Bible in their formation of a worldview. I hope he did not mean that!
Despite the fact that the ASA conference brochure says presenters should maintain a “humble and loving attitude towards individuals who have a different opinion,” a moderator in the session then repeated Dr. Winslow’s slur about illiteracy as if it were a joke, instead of deeply offensive to those who have science-based reservations about the merits of some aspects of evolutionary theory.
Until this ASA meeting I did not really think that the debate about evolution was terribly relevant to Christian faith and, as a former research scientist, I knew that doubting the evolutionary dogma does not affect my ability to “do” science. Personally, I “believed in” evolution for twenty years after I made my decision to profess faith in Christ. It was not my faith that caused me to question aspects of evolution or to consider that there is merit to ID. Rather, it was the science, the cell biology.
I am currently a self-confessed evolutionary agnostic—I see that there is intriguing scientific evidence for some aspects of evolution, but also acknowledge that there are holes in that evidence. For example, my knowledge of the cell shows me that the stated mechanism whereby macroevolution is said to proceed does not work. I see logic in the view of ID proponents, but also realize that ID is a theory in process. I find TE both academically and theologically frustrating. Academically, I am unwilling to commit to having the faith necessary to believe that the whole of evolutionary theory will be proven right eventually. Theologically, I am confused about the presupposition that, even though God created the world, His action must by definition be completely undetectable. I thought that I would find many like-minded people at a conference for Christians in science. After all, scientists are known for having questioning minds and Christians value humility, so Christian scientists should be very willing to consider that their scientific or theological understanding is probably incomplete.
But, what I learned at the ASA conference was that reason the debate over evolution matters is that it is a symptom of a much more serious disease: the elevation of the authority of science and the scientific community above the claims and values of the Bible and Christianity. Scientism is a belief system where science becomes the preeminent way to ascertain all truth, making scientists—well, very important people. Symptoms of scientism much in evidence at the ASA conference were the repeated assertions that “all real scientists think…” and the communicated attitude that we need to accept the consensus of the scientific community and, if necessary, change our interpretation of the Bible to fit with the science.
Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), exemplifies this type of thinking when he says, “And people are beginning to argue in very irrational ways based on a lack of understanding what the science says. If we could back off from all of the, sort of, hard edged rhetoric and really say, okay, what is science teaching us, I suspect that the moral dilemmas [involved with the use of embryonic stem cells for research purposes] are not nearly as rough as people think they are.” The idea that science should inform our interpretation of Scripture contains some truth and some untruth (e.g. science being able to teach us morality), as do most harmful ideas. Unfortunately, at much of the ASA meeting, it was the first step on a slippery slope to so much more.
Dr. Gareth Jones gave another of the plenary session lectures. During the first part of the talk on neuroscience and reproduction, he set up a hypothetical situation wherein a couple already have a child with a genetic disease, have a ¼ chance of their next child also having the disease, do not feel that they could cope with the stress and work of another sick child, but would like more children. Dr. Jones outlined that this couple has four options.
1) Decide not to have more children,
2) Take the risk and have a child,
3) Conceive a child, have pre-birth testing, and abort if the child has the disease, and
4) Donate eggs and sperm for in vitro fertilization and genetic testing,
with the intention of not implanting any defective embryo. Dr. Jones stated that Options 1, 2 and 4 are the only ones that would be acceptable for a Christian, making it appear as if he is assuming that human life does not begin at conception. A questioner who asked about a 5th option (birth followed by adoption) was shot down with the reply that that this would still allow a “defective” person to be born and that “freely chosen ignorance is not a virtue.”
Dr. Francis Collins, who is a self-proclaimed evangelical Christian and long time member of the ASA, also seems unclear about the ethics of using human embryos for research. He says that “human embryos deserve moral status” but that it may be more ethical to use the 400,000 embryos that are currently frozen for “breathtakingly” beneficial research than to “discard them.” If the leading scientist in our country believes this, why then should an ASA plenary session speaker commit to the Biblical view that human life from conception onwards is sacred, as is espoused in Ps 139:13? One may argue that the ASA is a place where all views can be discussed “without fear of unjust condemnation,” but this should surely be held in tension with their self-proclaimed acceptance of Biblical authority.
The ASA bias towards a liberal form of Christianity and elevating science above Scripture continued. During parallel session talks on the ethics of neuroscience and reproduction by a number of speakers, attendees at the ASA meeting were informed that science shows that sexuality is fluid and so it might be unethical to offer help to those wanting to change their sexual orientation (or identity). After all, the scientific consensus is that one does not choose to be homosexual, transgendered, or even a pedophile. Dr. Heather Looy, a psychologist from King’s University College, was concerned that we be compassionate and not keep homosexual people from enjoying a full sexual experience. A lovely person herself, who practices what she preaches, she stressed that we should not judge those different from ourselves. Dr. William Struthers from Wheaton acknowledged that the traditional family unit with a father and a mother is best for children, but also explained that gender is a spectrum and that Christians should hold science and Scripture in tension, realizing that God is love incarnate.
Of course, Christians should be aware that we are all sinners saved by grace and this should make us as compassionate to those caught in sexual sin as we would want them to be towards us in our sin. In addition, we all have character traits that predispose us to be more tempted by certain sins than we are by others. You may be tempted to sleep with someone of the same gender; I would be more tempted by a juicy piece of gossip. Giving in is sin, no matter the temptation. However, the traditional understanding of the Biblical teaching is that that the Lord gave us rules for our benefit and safety, not because He wants to be a spoilsport, and that obedience, no matter how difficult, is always the best way to attain fullness of joy. The current politically-correct scientific consensus does not negate this. For Christians science does not trump the Bible.
Finally, there were several presentations on why science must be methodologically naturalistic and why we should help our churches to accept that evolution is a fact. The final session was offered by Ruth Bancewicz from the Faraday Institute at Cambridge University on a course called Test of Faith. The purpose of Test of Faith, which is now travelling the country giving presentations at places like Gordon College, MIT, Wheaton, Fairfax Community Church, Bethel University, Point Loma Nazarene, and California Institute of Technology sounds wonderful and very in keeping with both good science and Christianity. It is to show how science is compatible with faith by highlighting various believing scientists. But, the producers have a self-admitted bias towards theistic evolution, as do the majority of the scientists (Francis Collins, Jennifer Wiseman, and John Polkinghorne), and so only represent a part of the entire community of Christians in science. Certainly, although there is a lot of recommended reading on their website, I could find no mention of Stephen Meyers’ Signature in the Cell or Michael Behe’s The Edge of Evolution. Test of Faith has been working with Youth for Christ, ASA, and the Bible Society and is well-funded by the Templeton Foundation.
So, what is the worry? The entire picture. ASA and BioLogos, the organization started by Dr. Francis Collins, and Test of Faith, backed by Templeton Foundation money, working together to convert the Christian world to a belief in evolution and, if the parts of the ASA meeting that I witnessed were anything to go by, a very watered down version of Christianity. These groups are also working with InterVarsity Fellowship, Youth for Christ, and the Bible Society. They are targeting universities, seminaries, and churches with their message that belief in evolution is compatible with faith and that all people of intelligence should embrace evolutionary theory as fact. Quite apart from the scientific problems with this view, some people are questioning whether the faith that is being espoused is still orthodox Christianity. The fruit of the ASA meeting, which included arguing based on ad hominem attacks, advocating a type of Scientism, equivocating about the sanctity of life, and disregarding Biblical standards for sexuality, suggests that it is not. ASA has forgotten its stated identity. ASA has lost its way.
Personally, I hope that, with the help and support of those of us who disagree with the turn they have taken, the ASA will get back on track. I’ll be looking forward to next year’s meeting in San Diego! Meanwhile, why not check out a scientific association that really does encourage the open discussion of controversial subjects in a non-hostile environment? American Institute for Technology and Science Education (AITSE) is such a place. Our vision is to promote good science, based on impartial evaluation of evidence, not mere consensus. Our mission is ”…to improve science education and encourage scientific integrity” and “offer clear, reliable and balanced education with the goal of liberating science and technology from ideology, politics and the restrictions of consensus…”
Dr. Caroline Crocker, who holds an MSc in medical microbiology and a PhD in immunopharmacology, is President of AITSE. If you enjoyed this article, please “like” AITSE on Facebook, follow Caroline on Twitter, and sign up for AITSE’s monthly newsletter. If you would like to help AITSE with its work to restore integrity to science, please donate generously. Finally, if you are a scientist or physician of integrity, please consider applying to join AITSE’s scientific consortium. Together we can make a difference.