This section is always under construction, but this will be especially so during our 50th-anniversary year of 2023.
The American Scientific Affiliation, or ASA, was founded as an international network of Christians in the sciences. The story begins with a June 1941 letter written by Will H. Houghton, the President of Moody Bible Institute. He called for an annual meeting of “science teachers who are Christians and who feel that some scientific facts are not having proper recognition, while some hypotheses are being presented as laboratory truth.” Two aims would be to equip ministers with scientific understanding and develop resources for Christian students to deal with challenges from science.
Five men responded and attended the first meeting in Chicago in 1941. These would become the founding fathers of the ASA, made up of scientists from academia and industry from all over the United States. From humble beginnings, the ASA went on to gain charitable status, hold large conventions, and make a concerted effort toward visibility in the secular sphere. Membership grew considerably, with the high-water mark at about 2,700 members. On whether to include the word “Christian” in the name, ASA’s leadership felt this would hinder their wider effectiveness and impact. Moreover, the brightest and most effective lights seemed to shine on an individual basis: rigorous scientists and intellectuals who took their faith just as seriously.
Canadians have been numbered among ASA members from the earliest days. Frank Allen (University of Manitoba) joined as early as 1946, becoming ASA’s first Honorary Fellow in 1965; Brian P. Sutherland (Consolidated Mining & Smelting, Rossland, BC) served as ASA’s Vice President 1953-56. The first ASA annual meeting on Canadian soil was held in 1972 at York University, Toronto. It was then that Ontario’s John F. Stewart (medical doctor, Anglican priest, & former missionary) proposed a “Canadian Scientific Affiliation.” Three motivating factors were (1) the ASA’s resources were being stretched too thinly to do justice to Canada; (2) following Expo ’67 in Montréal and the Repatriation of our Constitution from Britain, there was a Canadian sense of “coming of age” and taking responsibility for ourselves; and (3) new income tax laws meant Canadians could no longer make tax-deductible donations to ASA. With gracious enthusiasm, the ASA agreed.
In 1973, Douglas Morrison (Professor of Animal & Poultry Science, University of Guelph) and Dan Osmond (Professor of Physiology & Medicine, University of Toronto) joined Stewart to found the affiliation, specifically to address and express some of the unique challenges and insights of science and Christian faith in the Canadian context. They originally wanted the name to be “Canadian Scientific Affiliation” (CSA) to match ASA; however, they were told officially that the name would have to reflect both the scientific and Christian character of the organization. In the years since then, we’ve seen that being up-front about our Christian distinctiveness is perhaps more necessary in the Canadian context.
1973 – 1999: Early History
So it was that CSCA was founded in 1973 by John Stewart, Dan Osmond, and Doug Morrison, all in southern Ontario. John did much of the organizational work. Osmond was CSCA’s first President, and Morrison was a long-time Executive Director. At that time CSCA was centred in Guelph, with additional activity restricted to Toronto and Waterloo. Donations were sent to Stewart’s home in Perth, ON, and meetings were often held at Morrison’s farm in Fergus, ON.
Robert Vander Vennen (University of Toronto, & Institute for Christian Studies) served as President for most of the ’80s, succeeded by Doug Morrison, with Norman MacLeod (Toronto) as Executive Secretary. In 1981 the geographical base of CSCA broadened when a Vancouver section was organized by Enoch Mattson (theology) of Trinity Western University. Don McNally began his role in campus resource ministry in 1986. Other key people in this decade included Charles Chaffey (chemical engineering, Toronto) as well as Esther Martin (chemistry, Guelph) who served as Secretary-Treasurer for many years and as proofreader of PSCF for decades. By the dawn of the ’90s, local sections of the CSCA included Vancouver, Guelph, Toronto, and Ottawa.
In 1992 Norman MacLeod (Toronto) became President and Don McNally joined the council. Gary Partlow (physiology, Guelph) served as President from 1994 to 1996. ASA’s annual conference came to Canada for the second time when the ASA/CSCA conference was held at the University of Toronto in 1996. Numerous Canadian speakers included Denis Lamoureux, Ted Beverley, John Stewart, Charles Chaffey, Harry Spaling, and Jitse van der Meer. Robert Mann (physics, Waterloo) then served as President from 1997 to 2006, and David Humphreys was Executive Director from 1999 to 2003, when Don McNally accepted the role.
2000 – 2009: Science and Faith in the New Millennium
Under the direction of Robert Mann, CSCA hosted a nationwide public lecture series in 2001-2004 entitled “Science and Faith in the New Millennium.” Funding was provided by grants from the Reid Trust, the Templeton Foundation, and private donations. Speakers included physics Nobel Laureate William Phillips, physicist/theologian John Polkinghorne, psychologist Malcolm Jeeves, cosmologists Owen Gingerich and George Ellis, theologian Anne Foerst, neuroscientist David Cechetto (Western), mathematician Bill Dembski, biologist/theologian Denis Lamoureux (University of Alberta), ecologist Calvin De Witt, and materials scientist Colin Humphreys. In total, over 5,000 people in twelve cities attended these lectures, the largest event being in Edmonton with nearly 800 present.
The annual ASA/CSCA conference returned to Canada in 2004 at Trinity Western University with several international speakers, including Malcolm Jeeves and George Ellis. Canadian plenary speakers included Heather Looy (psychology, The King’s University) and David Cechetto (physiology). We partnered with the International Network on Personal Meaning for an ancillary symposium, “The Gift of Suffering: Spiritual Transformation, Science and Medicine.” Several plenary speakers from the ASA/CSCA main conference spoke at that event. Both of these conferences were funded in part by grants from Templeton Foundation.
In this era, the Templeton Foundation also funded several Local Societies Initiatives in connection with the Metanexus Institute on Religion & Science, which provided funding for local CSCA groups. This enabled the Vancouver area to host several speakers from 2005-2008 and to hold a student essay writing competition. Hamilton also received a Metanexus grant in 2005 for Thaddeus Trenn (history of science, Toronto) and Don McNally to head up a Templeton-funded science & religion course together at Toronto.
2010 – 2019: Local Chapters Abound
Southern Ontario, Vancouver, and Edmonton remained the primary areas of activity in the next decade. In 2010 the CSCA Executive Council, then under the direction of Thaddeus Trenn (President 2007-2011) was reorganized to include only five members, three of whom would be in nine-year rotation (Vice-President, President, and Past President), a Student & Early Career Representative, and a non-rotational Secretary-Treasurer. Bob Geddes, a geologist/pastor, continued to faithfully fill the latter role, and Don McNally continued as Executive Director until 2018. Other key people in that decade were Denis Lamoureux and Heather Looy in Edmonton. Trenn was followed as President by James Peterson (medicine, McMaster), then Arnold Sikkema (physics, TWU), and then Janet Warren (medicine & theology).
In 2014 the ASA/CSCA annual conference (including Christians in Science from the UK) was held at McMaster in Hamilton with Robert Mann and Bob Geddes as chairs. The Canadian plenary speakers were Bart Netterfield (astrophysics, Toronto) and Don Page (physics, Alberta) along with numerous Canadians speaking in parallel sessions.
From 2016-2018, CSCA was the recipient of a generous grant from the Templeton World Charity Foundation to carry out a Local Chapters Project. Chapters were added in Calgary, Saskatchewan, Winnipeg, Waterloo, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Nova Scotia, bringing our total to eleven (including Vancouver, Edmonton, and Hamilton). The project included a speaking tour, for which Arnold Sikkema delivered a lecture on “Quantum Physics and Christianity” in each Canadian chapter. In addition to thirty-six student mentoring meals, the funding provided for a record total of 186 local chapter events in three years (including Arnold’s tour, several shorter lecture tours, individual public lectures, panel discussions, workshops, luncheons, and book launches). Our Waterloo chapter conceived and brought to bear a major event by reaching out to nearby local chapters and several other ministries: a debate between skeptic Michael Shermer and theologian Alister McGrath in Toronto—also the occasion for our 2017 AGM. Scholarships were provided for twenty-eight students to attend science and religion conferences. The grant also allowed for the hiring of Project Development Officer Mark McEwan (theological studies student, ACTS), who renovated our website. During this time, a series of pamphlets called “Faith and Science, eh?” was produced on topics including creation, earth science, Copernicus, quantum physics, reductionism, genes and evolution, carbon dating, tectonic plates, and ecology.
In May 2018 CSCA held its first national conference, “From Sea to Sea… to Sky!” with over 160 attendees. Plenary speakers included Richard Middleton (theologian, Northeastern Seminary, past president of the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association, now the “Canadian American Theological Association”), Katharine Hayhoe (Canadian climate scientist at Texas Tech.), Robert Mann (physics, Waterloo), and Dennis Danielson (English, UBC). Outstanding among the plenary sessions was Santa Ono, then president of UBC, a biologist and medical scientist who has openly proclaimed his faith at UBC. Find recordings here.
One highlight of the conference was the off-site Sky Gala with Dennis Danielson (author of The Book of the Cosmos) narrating “Six Pieces of a Reverberant Cosmos” composed by Janet Danielson (music, SFU) and performed by the Isotone Ensemble. Katharine Hayhoe spoke following the concert. Additionally, we partnered with a ministry called Theo’s Feast, run by Gary Stevenson with Power to Change, specializing in using “edible metaphors” to communicate a Christian message. On the opening night of the conference, Gary made and served exotic ice creams, and the night after the conference, a smaller group participated in “Taste and See: An Edible Science and Faith Odyssey.”
In late 2018 Arnold Sikkema was appointed Executive Director, and in early 2019 Mike Werth (who had assisted with financial and tax matters throughout the 2016-18 grant years) became our Treasurer, allowing Bob Geddes to focus on the Secretary role. As the Local Chapters Project was completed at the end of that year (see the final report here), Mark McEwan’s full-time employment with CSCA came to a close; today, he continues part-time work as Digital Media and Communications Specialist. In 2019, Patrick Franklin (theology, Tyndale) would have become President, but his health delayed his appointment until 2020, and Janet Warren remained in her position as President for one extra year. Heather Prior (biology, King’s) was appointed Vice President. Charles Chaffey, who attended that first 1972 conference and remained active, celebrated fifty years of ASA/CSCA membership in 2018 and went to be home with the Lord in 2021.
2020 – present: Onward and Upward
The COVID-19 pandemic brought an abrupt halt to all in-person CSCA events, but it also brought ASA and CSCA closer together in many ways, pushing us further along technologically. As early as April 2020, the ASA jumped with both feet into the challenging world of online-only events. Sharing a Zoom license with ASA, CSCA chapters began holding online events shortly after, with Waterloo leading the way in May. That same month, Mark McEwan was brought aboard ASA’s team as their Digital Content Specialist—now working for both affiliations.
From the beginning of the pandemic to the end of 2022, CSCA held thirty-seven online-only events for seven local chapters, not including CSCA AGMs, ASA’s 2020 “Summer Something,” the online-only ASA 2021, any of the regular ASA programming precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic (monthly Diving Deeper Discussions, quarterly Brown Bag Lunches, and the annual Winter Symposium). Of particular note are the joint-chapter Zoom events hosted by Calgary’s Matthew Morris (biology, Ambrose University) for the benefit of Canada’s western provinces, featuring Winnipeg’s Rebecca Dielschneider (biology, Providence University College), who spoke on vaccine hesitancy with great wisdom and compassion.
At the 2022 annual general meeting, there was significant turnover in the Executive Council. Bob Geddes finished fifteen years on the Executive Council, mostly as Secretary-Treasurer; he was replaced as Secretary by Joseph Vybihal (computer science, McGill). Mike Werth completed his term as Treasurer and was replaced by Andy Sebestyen (environmental management, Stelco – retired). Janet Warren completed her term as Past President. Heather Prior moved to the President position, and Patrick Franklin became Past President. Nyasha Gondora (neuroscience, Canadian Institutes of Health Research) continues as Student and Early Career Representative, a position which she has occupied for two years. Vlad Paserin (consultant for Nickel Institute) was appointed as Vice President.
Today we look forward to the next fifty years of CSCA partnering with ASA and proclaiming God’s greatness. We extend thanksgiving to all who have helped to guide and promote this endeavour.
- F. Alton Everest – One of the five founding fathers of the ASA. His book, The American Scientific Affiliation: Its Growth and Early Development, is very helpful for early information.
- Mark McEwan – A number of paragraphs lifted from our 2018 pamphlet, “What is the CSCA?“
- Dan Osmond – Dan’s letter in our 40th-anniversary newsletter (reproduced in our 50th) supplies a number of details.
- Arnold Sikkema – Major edits and fact-checking.
- Judy Toronchuk – Judy’s piece in our 50th-anniversary newsletter was the inspiration for this section of our website.
- ASA website, History Section.
- ASA Resources Database, Articles and Presentations dealing with ASA/CSCA history.
- F. Alton Everest, The American Scientific Affiliation: Its Growth and Early Development.
- Terry Gray & Emily Ruppel, “Finding Harmony in Controversy: The Early Years of the ASA,” God and Nature.
- Mark McEwan, “What is the CSCA?” pamphlet.
- Don McNally, “A Brief History of the CSCA,” CSCA 2018 lecture video.
- Dan Osmond, “My Early Memories of CSCA,” 40th-Anniversary Newsletter.