Mainline Protestant Channel
Evolution Weekend: Debunking the Myth of the Religion-Science Conflict
Although disagreements between religion and science most often seem to center on the theory of evolution, the ordained members of The Clergy Letter Project have absolutely no problems reconciling evolution with their faith. For example, almost 13,000 Christian clergy members have enthusiastically endorsed the following simple statement: "We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge."
More than that, for the past five years, hundreds of religious congregations representing Christians, Jews, and Muslims in twenty countries have joined together to celebrate an annual event called Evolution Weekend. This year, on the weekend of 11-13 February, the sixth annual Evolution Weekend will occur and, again, hundreds of congregations will find ways to raise the quality of the dialogue about the compatibility of religion and science while demonstrating, via their actions, that the myth of warfare between the two has little basis in reality.
This particular weekend was selected because it coincides with the birth of Charles Darwin (February 12, 1809) and participants thought that there could be no better time to demonstrate the ways in which a mature and robust relationship between religion and science might take place. During Evolution Weekend participating clergy often preach about the compatibility of religion and science while congregants often engage in deep discussions on the subject.
Unfortunately, there are those who denounce the clergy who have opted to celebrate Evolution Weekend and who, instead, work tirelessly to promote the myth that religion and science have always been and must remain at odds.
From the fundamentalist right comes the assertion that their view of religion, a view that requires a single, literal interpretation of the Bible, is the only correct position and that any who disagree should not consider themselves religious. These people want to redefine religion in their narrow image, effectively marginalizing all who disagree.
From some quarters of the left, best reflected by the "new atheists," comes the assertion that all religion is nothing more than superstition at odds with modern science and that it is unnecessary, and largely impossible, to distinguish between religious beliefs. Fundamentalists and their cry for biblical inerrancy are conflated with those religious leaders calling for evolution exclusively to be taught in our public school science classes and laboratories.
The "new atheists" worry that religious leaders make truth claims that run counter to scientific evidence. As a scientist, I understand this concern and like the "new atheists" believe that we need to accept the findings of science. In fact, though, members of The Clergy Letter Project have a far more nuanced view of the role of religion than that attributed to them by the "new atheists." Many modern religious leaders understand the power and beauty implicit in poetry and metaphor.
Consider the following from The Clergy Letter: "Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible—the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark—convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation. Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts."
Many religious leaders understand that religion is not dependent upon a single, literal interpretation of any text. Instead, the overwhelming majority of the religious leaders with whom I interact regularly believe that religion is about morality and spirituality rather than science. They want to make the world a better, a fairer and a more just place and they believe they can accomplish that within a spiritual community.
The passion with which they've embraced Evolution Weekend is but one demonstration that we are well underway toward creating a new paradigm articulating a healthy relationship between religion and science.
For more congregational resources and suggestions for Evolution Sunday, visit the website here.
Michael Zimmerman, with a Ph.D. in biology, is the founder and executive director of The Clergy Letter Project. He has been elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.