Preaching evolution in the name of God
By Marsha Sutton
February 9, 2007
When hundreds of Christian congregations across the country settle in at church this Sunday, they will hear something not often associated with religious sermons: a tribute to Charles Darwin.
On â€œEvolution Sunday,â€ participating churches will honor the man many call the father of modern biology, with his groundbreaking theories on evolution and natural selection. Clergy will also speak about the harmonious compatibility of religious beliefs and modern science, and the need to teach evolution in public schools.
Timed to coincide with Darwin's birthday Feb. 12, Evolution Sunday is an offshoot of the Clergy Letter Project.
The Clergy Letter, signed this year by more than 10,000 clergy nationwide, specifically addresses Darwin's pioneering theory of evolution and states in part that â€œthe theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny â€“ To reject this truth or to treat it as 'one theory among others' is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children.â€ The letter urges school boards â€œto preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge.â€
Perhaps one of the greatest mysteries facing scientists today is not so much understanding how life began, but rather how some adults who believe in the literal biblical story of creation can teach children to reject science and consequently stifle their natural love of learning, their intrinsic inquisitive nature and their wonderfully innocent curiosity to discover how things work.
This issue is critical for public education. When 62 percent of American adults believe teaching creationism has a valid place alongside evolution, according to a 2004 MSNBC/Newsweek poll, there is a problem. Even more alarming, 43 percent favor teaching creationism instead of evolution.
A Harris poll in June 2005 asked 1,000 adults if they thought apes and humans have a common ancestry, and 47 percent said no while 46 percent said yes. This, despite the fact that the chimpanzee and human genomes are more than 98 percent identical, according to Science Daily. â€œIt's like the Flat Earth Society,â€ said Kim Bess, director of science for the San Diego Unified School District. â€œHow can you hold onto all that in the face of all the new scientific discoveries?â€
Bess applauds the Clergy Letter Project and Evolution Sunday, because she agrees that religion and science can be easily integrated. â€œIt's not one or the other; you don't have to choose,â€ she said. â€œEvery time we discover something new about the incredible complexity of, for example, DNA, and how sophisticated it all is, it should be a reinforcement of our faith.â€
Yet, nearly 150 years after the publication of Darwin's explosive book, â€œOn the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selectionâ€ in 1859, evolution is more controversial than ever, despite overwhelming evidence that the British naturalist's revolutionary ideas â€“ that life evolved from common ancestors over millions of years â€“ are scientifically solid.
Last year, Fiorenzo Facchini, an Italian professor of evolutionary biology, wrote in the Vatican's newspaper that creationists in the United States were a throwback to the â€œdogmatic 1800s.â€ Backed by the Vatican, he called their literal viewpoints not science but ideology. He wrote that it was unjustified to teach creationism and its not-so-distant cousin, intelligent design, as scientific theory.
The theory of evolution is regarded by the scientific community like the theory of gravity or the theory of relativity â€“ all supported by vast amounts of evidence. The theory of creationism has no basis in scientific fact and is simply a belief, Bess said.
â€œA theory happens after a hypothesis has been tested again and again scientifically,â€ she said. â€œIn science we have to look at evidence.â€
But the American penchant for questioning authority makes some fearful of new ideas and unwilling to shake ingrained beliefs. Damn the evidence and full speed ahead.
To counter this frightening â€œdon't confuse me with the factsâ€ attitude, the Clergy Letter Project and Evolution Sunday were founded last year after some clergy became exasperated with Christian evangelical insistence that the Bible's description of creation should be taken literally rather than allegorically and should be considered a valid scientific theory. Central to this inspired grass-roots movement to honor Darwin is the notion that deeply held religious convictions and respect for the advancements of science can co-exist.
If adults choose to disregard evidence that supports evolution in fields ranging from astronomy to zoology, then so be it. But when strict creationists disparage scientific discovery, teach children to reject knowledge and stifle their innate curiosity and inquisitive spirit, it is quite another matter. Withholding legitimate education from children robs them â€“ and future generations â€“ of budding scientists who may never realize their full potential. As well-documented test scores indicate, American children woefully lag behind other developed countries in their critical-thinking abilities and their knowledge and understanding of science, math and technology. Demonizing scientists and indoctrinating youngsters to ignore scientific evidence does little to help counter our international reputation that U.S. children are under-educated scientific lightweights. To mislead children with false data is not benign. It's irresponsible, repressive and dangerous.
Instead of embracing ignorance in the name of God, let's applaud those clergy who have the courage to preach on behalf of knowledge. As the Clergy Letter states, the purpose of the Bible and religious truth â€œis not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.â€