Hundreds of US churches and many thousands of religious believers defied the stereotype that American Christianity is a cipher for anti-science creationism last week, as they marked Evolution Weekend with sermons and seminars on the consonance of spiritual and scientific exploration.Beginning in the fall of 2004, Michael Zimmerman worked with clergy throughout Wisconsin to prepare a statement in support of teaching evolution. They had been called to action by a series of anti-evolution policies passed by the school board in Grantsburg, WI. In a few weeks, nearly 200 clergy signed the statement, which they sent to the school board on December 16, 2004. Groups of educators and scientists sent letters to the Grantsburg School Board and to the Superintendent of Schools protesting these policies. In response to all of this attention, as well as the efforts of others, the Grantsburg School Board retracted their policies.
The outpouring of support from clergy around the country encouraged Michael to make this a nationwide project, now known as the “Clergy Letters Project.” As of February 10, 2008, over 11,000 clergy have signed the petition. “Evolution Weekend” was an outgrowth of the letters project, a teach-in when pastors, theological educators, scientists and lay people join together to mark the birth of Charles Darwin on February 12.
In a report released Saturday by Ekklesia: A New Way of Thinking, clergy and scientists together
are working to combat the influence of creationism and its cousin 'intelligent design', which base their rejection of all or part of evolutionary science on discredited biblical interpretation and a god-of-the-gaps idea that the divine is to be sought in the 'holes' or limits of the natural sciences.Looking Back: There is a common impression today among many Christians and non-Christians alike that until the last two centuries Christians interpreted Genesis 1-3 literally. The ideas that God created the world in six 24-hour days, that there was no death in the world until the fall of Adam, that God introduced all kinds of unpleasantries as punishment for sin, and that all living things were created in their current state have been assumed by many not to have been challenged until the 19th century. That is a false assumption. While Augustine (354-430 A.D.) didn't know about evolution, he saw creation as a continuing and unfolding process, in which the commands of the Creator were fulfilled progressively, not instantaneously. More importantly, he was adamant that the “literal” meaning of Genesis must not stand in contradiction to the kind of knowledge that today we call “scientific”. In his two-volume work, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, written fifteen hundred years before the 19th century and Darwin, Augustine wrote:
By contrast, mainstream scholars argue that the creativity of God is to be understood in and through the natural, not in conflict with it, though they give different pictures and accounts of the relation between God and the world.
An international panel of scholars gathered under the umbrella of the Cambridge-based International Society for Science and Religion (ISSR) have recently agreed on a statement explaining why 'intelligent design' is both poor theology and faulty science.
“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for a [non-believer] to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.”If Christians believe that all truth, from wherever derived, is from God and that truth will set us free, what is there to fear from science? That was the message heard across the country in hundreds of congregations over these past two weekends. For those of us who believe in God, it is a hopeful sign.
PS: Watch for confirmation of a presidential debate on science set for April 18 at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Mike Huckabee have been invited. No RSVPs back yet. Stay tuned.
UPDATE: Check out the comments on this article on Daily Kos.