Evolution Weekend

Evolution Weekend February 11, 2012
Charles Darwin

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!

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  • John – the problem not limited to just the 40% in the US that support creationism.

    The 38% in the 2010 Gallup poll that think "God guided a process by which humans developed over millions of years from less advanced life forms" also don't really understand evolution as a scientific theory or accept it.

    Saying that god guided evolution is akin to saying lightning is an atmospheric electrostatic discharge (spark) accompanied by thunder, which typically occurs during thunderstorms and is caused by Thor.

    Adding theological content to evolutionary biology is about as necessary as adding it to meteorology. It adds nothing to understanding of science and is a dishonest way of "sugar-coating" science for liberal religious folks.

    The beauty in the theory first advanced by Darwin and Wallace 150+ years ago and refined further since then is that there is no requirement for any god to guide the process. The amazing thing is that a blind, materialistic, and purposeless process has created people who can discover this process and reflect on its philosophical implications.

  • Steve, you're right that the 38% who believe "God guided the process" don't really understand evolution. The theory doesn't require guidance and the evidence doesn't support it.

    I imagine most of the 38% are simply trying to square what their brains are telling them must be true with what they were taught was true in Sunday School. These people aren't the ones trying to shove Intelligent Design into science classes or using the Bible as a club to bash gay people and women and atheists and Pagans.

    I worship ancient gods and I practice magic. I live in a glass house and I'm not going to throw stones at people who are causing no harm even though their beliefs aren't perfectly aligned with current scientific knowledge.

  • "John – the problem not limited to just the 40% in the US that support creationism."

    Truth be told Steve. . .

    *Anyone* who believes that the Earth and the Universe were created by an intelligent Creator God, or indeed one or more small 'g' gods. . . believe in Creationism, albeit not necessarily Young Earth Creationism aka Biblical Creationism. *That* puts belief in, and thus presumably support for, creationism at closer to 90% of the population of the U.S.A. Right?

  • Robin and John,

    If the 2010 polling data is accurate, then one has seen the following trends in the three "evolution" viewpoints:

    ** Creationism has moved from its 1999 high of 47% holding that view to the 2010 low of 40% holding that view. That is the lowest percentage that Gallup has seen in their history of asking that question.

    ** Theistic evolution has remained unchanged fluctuating between 35% and 40%.

    ** Evolution as its understood by science has moved from its 1999 low of 9% to its historic high at 16%.

    The doubling in percentage of persons understanding evolution as science understands it (without goal or guidance) over the last decade may be a result of the "new atheist" book authors and atheist bloggers. Maybe the alleged "rudeness" of Dawkins, Hitchens, et al. has created a positive here.

    The need to hold on to a "theistic evolution" point of view does come from religion and not from secular thought.

    In this instance, religion is playing an active role in promoting scientific misunderstanding of a basic scientific discovery for 78% of all Americans. Yes … the "theistic evolution" view is less wrong and may be less harmful, but it does interfere with understanding science (which is harmful in and of itself).

  • "Theistic evolution" is a form of Creationism AFA*I*AC Steve, as it clearly implies an intelligent Creator God who got the whole sheBang* going in the first place.


    100% – 16% = 84%

    Which pretty much validates my assertion that support for, "Creationism" (in the broadest sense of the word) is "closer to 90% of the population of the U.S.A."


    In fact it is not out of the question that even some of that 16% of people who believe in "evolution as its understood by science" none-the-less *also* believe in a Creator God. . .

  • * Big Bang reference intended

  • The difference isn't philosophical – it's practical. Almost all (if not all) of the 40% who believe in creationism believe the creator is Yahweh, the god of the Bible, as imagined by conservative Christians and a few Jews.

    Those who believe in theistic evolution tend to be softer in their view of the creator – many of them hold beliefs that are universalist in nature, even if they wouldn't describe themselves as such.

    Believers in theistic evolution aren't causing problems for science education. Believers in strict creationism are.