This is the seventh annual Evolution Weekend and Clergy Letter Project, which asks ministers of all denominations to speak on the importance of evolution and the lack of conflict between religion and science. Though I am not clergy (at least not in the usual sense) I feel the need to add my voice to this project.
Last September I wrote on The Great Story of Evolution and why it’s important to us as UUs, Pagans and other religious liberals. I’m not going to revisit that essay – if you didn’t read it then or don’t remember it, go read it now. Instead, I want to talk about why the issue of evolution and the Clergy Letter Project is so important.
According to a Gallup poll in late 2010, 40% of Americans believe God (who of course, is Yahweh, the god of Christians and Jews) created humans in our current form about 10,000 years ago. Forty percent. This despite the fact that Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species over 150 years ago. This despite the fact you can look at gorillas and chimps (or for that matter, pretty much any mammal) and see a common ancestor with humans. This despite the fact that genetic analysis shows our relatedness to every living thing on the planet. The evidence supporting evolution is overwhelming.
For the 40% the evidence doesn’t matter. A few deny it, while most simply ignore it.
Most of us don’t want to be told we’re related to chimps and coyotes and cucumbers. We want to believe we’re “special,” that our opposable thumbs and bigger brains and capacity for speech make us not slightly different but categorically better. We want to believe we were made “in the image and likeness of God.”
When someone tells you something that confirms what you want to be true, you’re very likely to accept that it is true and discount or ignore any and all evidence against it. And when you believe one thing a source tells you, you’re likely to accept other things that source tells you without much questioning.
So when a fundamentalist pastor tells his congregation that evolution is a lie they intuitively accept it. And then they go on to accept what he tells them about the Bible being literally true, homosexuality being a sin, women being inferior (excuse me, “complementary”) creatures and “God’s plan” for a hierarchical, authoritarian society in this world and billions of people in eternal torment in the next world.
This whole worldview doesn’t begin with a denial of evolution, but evolution is a keystone that can bring it all down. If evolution is real then there is no historical Adam and Eve. If there is no historical Adam and Eve then there is no Original Sin, no need for sacrificial atonement, and the divinity of Jesus (which, of course, Unitarians have been disputing for centuries) becomes irrelevant. If evolution is real then the Bible can’t be literally true and all the ancient prejudices it confirms are reduced to just that – ancient prejudices.
Hardcore fundamentalists understand this. That’s why no amount of evidence will ever convince them that evolution is real – it would require them to change their whole worldview. But if the rest of the 40% can be convinced to examine the evidence then the hardcore fundamentalists will be preaching to an ever-shrinking flock.
Evolution doesn’t have to lead to atheism – if evolution is real then Christianity is still a perfectly valid religion. How we got here has no bearing on loving God and loving our neighbors. How we got here has no bearing on following Jesus and caring for the poor and the sick. How we got here has no bearing on building the Kingdom of God here and now.
That message is the purpose behind the Clergy Letter Project.
But it’s not just about winning debates and evangelizing the 40%. It’s also about ourselves.
When we accept the reality of evolution we commit ourselves to seeing things as they really are – not as we wish they were, not as we fear they might be. We commit ourselves to digging a little deeper and not assuming our initial impulses are right. We commit ourselves to understanding that all living things share a common origin, and ultimately, all living things share a common destiny.
Happy Evolution Weekend!