Evolution Sunday

As our scientific understanding expands, it has naturally provided different explanations than the accounts given in the mythologies of the various religons. For the most part, religions long ago abandoned attempts to explain the natural world, leaving such mundane details to science and instead focusing on matters such as philosophy, morals, and ethics, as well as purely religious concepts such as spiritual salvation. The one notable attempt to continue following religious accounts, rather than scientific ones, is that regarding biological evolution. Primarily among some members of the Christian faith in the United States, proponents have gone so far as to attempt to remove selected scientific theories from public schools or even to teach their religious accounts alongside them, as if they were alternative theories instead of rooted in religious stories.

Naturally, such an action is unacceptable to those in the scientific community, and indeed, to many in the religious community (the two are not mutually exclusive, of course). Some people perceive there to be a conflict between science and religion. But science is agnostic on the subject of God. It neither affirms nor denies God’s existence, but rather seeks to find simple explanations for observations without invoking supernatural forces. And of course, many people believe that religion and science serve different functions, that explaining what lightning is or how the Earth was formed is better analyzed through science.

Seeking to demonstrate this is the Clergy Letter Project. Signed by over ten thousand American Christian clergy, the statement reads as follows:

Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret Holy Scripture. While virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and practice, the overwhelming majority do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook. Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible – the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark – convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation. Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.

We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. 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. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.

An offshoot of this project is “Evolution Sunday,” to be celebrated on the Sunday closest to “Darwin Day”—12 February, the anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. As described by New Scientist,

Flocks of the Christian faithful in the US will this Sunday hold special services celebrating Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. The idea is to stand up to creationism, which claims the biblical account of creation is literally true, and which is increasingly being promoted under the guise of “intelligent design”. Proponents of ID say the universe is so complex it must have been created by some unnamed designer.

Support for “Evolution Sunday” has grown 13 per cent to 530 congregations this year, from the 467 that celebrated the inaugural event last year. Organisers see it as increasing proof that Christians are comfortable with evolution.

(continue reading at New Scientist)

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4 thoughts on “Evolution Sunday

  1. Some people perceive there to be a conflict between science and religion.

    The Origins of this Specious perception baffle me 😉

    The key point, to my mind, is in the lines from the Clergy Letter Project:

    We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris.

    Your explanation helped me understand what this is all about from afar.

    P.S. Yesterday I was standing in a checkout queue and I deliberately took a quick look at Darwin’s thoughtful old features on our currency before handing my ten pound note over 🙂

  2. It is a bit bizarre, especially as people complain about outsourcing and the decline in education standards in the United States in one breath, and then promote religious instruction in science classes in the next. Our two countries have shared such history, yet it amazes me that the U.K. can embrace science so strongly while the U.S. not only is failing to keep but but is threatening to slip backwards.

  3. What may sound even stranger to American ears is that in Britain we have Religious Education just like we have Physical Education. One teaches the traditions of various faiths, and could loosely be described as to do with spiritual health, while the other has its focus on bodily health. Neither is prescriptive. Beliefs can be taught without enforcing them. Sports can be taught without imposing a keep fit regimen. Both can coexist with Science Education.

    Another transatlantic difference that I notice is that experts in any field tend to have more natural authority in the UK (actually in Europe) than in the US—by which I mean experts in religion and science, for example, are respected because society has accepted their qualifications as having been earned through a programme of study, and they are deemed worthy of at least an audience … even if people, on reflection, choose not to follow the experts’ advice (healthy scepticism is alive and kicking!) But at least experts get a chance to put their case in the first place …

    Last but not least, there are some very well-respected “elder statesmen of science”, in particular I am thinking of David Attenborough. He has appeared regularly on BBC TV producing nature documentaries for all to enjoy and watch in awe, and I have never heard a word against him in his 80+ years. As far as I could tell, there is no equivalent figurehead in America.

  4. I find the study of religion fascinating…I hope our country will learn some lessons from the U.K. I suppose the most famous scientist here is Stephen Hawking, though he’s not as much a public figure.

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