Religion and Science: An Evolving Relationship
On February 10-12, hundreds of clergy from all over the world will, for the seventh time, do something that many will feel is utterly shocking. They will, no doubt, be attacked for their actions, mercilessly by some. At the same time, largely because what they're doing is outside of the rhetorical norm, they'll largely be ignored by most media outlets.
What will they be doing that is so odd that it yields these vehement responses? And why do these deeply religious individuals undertake an action that has them accused of being anti-religious zealots by some and scientifically illiterate religious fanatics by others?
Evolution Weekend has become an opportunity for hundreds of congregations all over the world to raise the quality of the dialogue about the relationship between religion and science. It's an opportunity for clergy to engage hundreds of thousands of congregants and demonstrate that, despite what some of the loud fundamentalist voices consistently assert, there is no reason that a choice must be made between religious belief and modern science.
In many ways, it's a shame that an event like Evolution Weekend needs to take place. One decade into the 21st century, it seems inconceivable that we can still be debating whether or not religious dogma is capable of trumping scientific investigation. But with anti-evolution bills already being introduced this legislative season in Indiana, Missouri and New Hampshire, this is exactly the debate that is taking place.
The thousands of religious leaders who comprise The Clergy Letter Project know that their religious beliefs are not threatened by science. And they know that society has been greatly enriched by much of what science has taught us, from health care advances to agricultural improvements. They also know that there is strong evidence indicating that many younger congregants have been migrating away from religion when they perceive it being in direct conflict with science. For all of these reasons, clergy believe it is important to demonstrate by their actions that religion and science can be allies in our search for meaning in life.
The thousands of religious leaders who comprise The Clergy Letter Project also know that unless they speak up they are permitting others to define religion in their own image. And they know that the incredibly narrow vision of religion that is being advanced does great damage to most major religious traditions.
Evolution Weekend is an opportunity for religious individuals all over the world to demonstrate that creationism in all of its guises, from "creation science" through intelligent design to the cynical "teach the controversy" movement, does great damage to both religion and science. It is terribly sad and ironic that these clergy members who are working to demonstrate a compatibility of worldviews are attacked by so many.
Those who have a singular view of religion "know" that members of The Clergy Letter Project, men and women who have devoted their lives to their religious beliefs, are not sincere in those religious beliefs. Those who condemn religion "know" that members of The Clergy Letter Project are not sincere in their advocacy of science. And yet members of The Clergy Letter Project persist in their activities and their advocacy because they are confident that they are making an important difference in the spiritual and intellectual lives of their congregants while making an equally important point to society at large.
This year, members of The Clergy Letter Project have dedicated Evolution Weekend to an interfaith discussion of the relationship between religion and science. The critical point that this focus makes is that science in general and evolution in particular can help draw diverse religions together. Finding a shared purpose while respecting difference will help promote broader understanding among religions.
You can partake in the dialogue by visiting a congregation that is participating in Evolution Weekend or by signing up your congregation to participate. By doing so, you can join The Evolution Weekend movement, a movement that is an attempt to instill civility in a contentious arena without compromising either spiritual or intellectual principles.
Michael Zimmerman is the founder and executive director of The Clergy Letter Project. Zimmerman holds a Ph.D. in biology and has been elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.]