Jack Haas asked me to make an informal report of the ASA Annual Meeting held
at Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA, on August 1-4, 1997. I constructed
this report from memory with several suggestions from Don DeGraaf. Since
neither he nor I could attend every session there are some gaps in the
One of the inviting features of the Annual ASA meeting is the geologic field
trip that is planned for the day before the beginning of the conference.
This year it was a trip to Santa Cruz island, about twenty miles off shore
from Santa Barbara. On Friday morning, about 100 of us boarded the cruise
ship for the island. It was an exciting day in every way, from the trip to
the island in the fog, to the lecture on the geology of the island, to the
hike up a canyon on the island or across its upper ridges in the heat of the
day, to the cruise along the shoreline afterward, including a ride deep into
a spacious cave carved out of the rocky shoreline by the waves, to plowing
through the high seas back to Santa Barbara, and sighting schools of dolphins
that played hide-and-seek with the boat. We slept well on Friday night.
The first plenary session was held on Friday evening. A very stimulating
presentation was given by Dr. Dawn Wright, Asst. Prof. of Geology and
Geography at Oregon State University in Corvallis. Talking from a set of
spectacular slides of life on the bottom of the sea floor she unfolded
"Discoveries of Seafloor Exploration" that have been made in the last 10-20
years, disclosing the wonders of God's nature few of us know about. Star
Trekkers may proclaim space as the last frontier. Dr. Wright pointed out
another one--the sea floor.
Plunging into a most difficult subject on Saturday morning, Dr. John Suppe,
Professor of Geosciences at Princeton University presented, "The Future
Interface of Science and Christianity." The growth curves presented by Suppe
of discoveries of Christianity in the four centuries immediately following
Christ's lifetime, and of science in the last 400 years suggest that science,
like Christianity, may have a finite life span of major discoveries, the
duration of which depends largely on the amount of resources developed
countries are willing to assign to it. He then presented various graphs
showing the relation of Christianity to the growth of other religions in
various regions of the world. He closed by reporting on how various mission
groups are responding to the challenge of changes in relationships of
Christianity to major religions around the world. The impression I received
is that the largest long-term challenges to Christianity will arise from
competing world religions more than from science.
The banquet speaker on Saturday evening was Dr. Hugh Ross, Executive Director
of Reasons to Believe in Pasadena, CA, speaking on the topic, "Ministries on
Natural History As Evidence of Design." He recounted recent discoveries in
astronomy that give strong evidence for the origin of the universe around
15-16 billion years ago. He then described many parameters of the universe
and our planetary system that have been "fined tuned" within exceedingly
narrow limits thereby making possible human life on planet earth. Design impl
icit in the origin of the universe and its fine-tuning provide unmistakable
evidence for the existence of a transcendent Designer, whom we identify with
the Christian God.
Almost the entire time on Monday was devoted to aspects of intelligent
design, given in plenary sessions. A stellar presentation was made by
Stephen Meyer entitled, "DNA and the Origin of Information: When Science
Must Bracket Naturalism." He described in exquisite detail several examples
of complex biomolecular structures, arguing that naturalistic laws and chance
fail to account for the phenomena, leaving the strong possibility that these
structures were intelligently designed.
Michael Keas presented an informative procedure on the "Use of the History of
Science in Science Teaching" with emphasis on the interactive computer
technology he has developed.
"Paradigm Shifts in Geology and Biology: Geosynclinal Theory and Plate
Tectonics: Darwinism and Intelligent Design." was the topic of John
The closing session featured Phillip Johnson, known for his relentless
opposition to scientific naturalism in American education. He finds
especially objectionable the National Association of Biology Teachers'
statement on science, evolution, and biology education, which states that,
"The diversity of life on earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised,
impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with
genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance,
historical contingencies and changing environments." This is a philosophical
presupposition, yet advocated as a fact by NABT and presented as such in many
high school and college textbooks.
The Monday program also included panel discussions following the
presentations by Steve Meyer, Michael Keas, and Phillip Johnson which raised
questions and discussed implications of the papers.
A major feature of the conference is always the individual papers presented
in parallel sessions on a wide array of subjects reflecting the wide-ranging
interests of ASAers. The conference program offered 30 high-quality
individual papers, 25 of which were presented in parallel sessions.
Selecting any of them for review is impossible given the space limitations.
An improvement to the program this yea was the addition of 5 minutes to each
presentation time. But getting from one meeting room to another for the next
presentation was a problem
A Saturday noon meeting took care of the overall business of the Affiliation
with dispatch. Meetings of the Commissions and Affiliations, held on Sunday
evening, dealt with the special concerns of the ASA.
As always in these Annual Meetings, some of the most satisfying times are the
fellowship with old friends, conversations with new ones, and the discovery
of common interests with people who started out as strangers. This year's
meetings provided these opportunities in abundance.
The administration of the conference had its high and low points.
Registration and transportation to the church service on Sunday were
conducted with dispatch. The owners of the Logos Bookstore in Los Angeles
brought an outstanding selection of books for display and sale. It was very
unfortunate that only transient space could be allocated to their display, so
that they had to completely put it away and then set it up several times
during the conference. Food was excellent; lines at the meals were long.
The banquet on Saturday evening was excellent. Coffee breaks on the
Magnolia Lawn were well managed. A frustrating aspect of the conference was
the inability to darken the large room in which the plenary sessions were
held, making it next to impossible for most of us to make out the overheads in
the singing during the devotional times, or the slides that were essential
to the presentations of Drs. John Suppe, Davis Young, and Phil Johnson.