Building Bridges – Observing Darwin’s Birthday in Church
On February 12th my congregation in California was one of four hundred plus churches across the nation that observed Evolution Sunday. Days before this event, which coincided with Charles Darwin’s 197th birthday, the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based proponent of Intelligent Design, opined that our observance was “the height of hypocrisy.” Discovery Institute officials charged us with sharing in a bit of “old time Darwinist religion.” Yes, I gave a “pro-evolution” sermon, but I’m not sure what this “good old Darwinist religion” is, but I would object to this characterization of my efforts. I expect the same would true of other preachers who chose to observe this event. Yes, we affirmed evolution as a scientific fact, but I wouldn’t call this Darwinist religion nor would I call it hypocritical.
While I can’t speak for my fellow preachers, nor the 10,000 plus signatories to the Clergy Letter Project’s “Open Letter on Religion and Science,” my sermon, and probably many others preached that day, affirmed evolution and recognized Darwin’s contribution to the theory, but it also celebrated God the creator. I sought to build a bridge between Christian faith and the science that explains the universe we live in. Whatever the challenges and modifications made over the last century and a half to the theory of evolution and Darwin’s theory of natural selection, evolution remains the acknowledged explanation of earth’s development and the diversity of its flora and fauna. While some proponents of evolution insist that it is a blind and purposeless process, this is not true of all its proponents, especially those of us who are theists.
I had my congregation observe Evolution Sunday because I’m concerned about the growing divide between the religious and scientific communities. I also spoke on this topic out of concern for the gospel of Jesus Christ, which can appear irrational and anti-intellectual in light of the vitriol expressed by some Christians against evolution.
Despite the overwhelming evidence presented in our nation’s public schools and in myriads of nature programs on TV, nearly half of Americans reject evolution. School boards and legislatures across the country are changing curriculum standards, often under pressure from religiously-motivated groups (despite disclaimers from the Discovery Institute). Whether or not Intelligent Design is creationism under a new name, its proponents seek to undermine evolution by “teaching [a] controversy” where no controversy exists.
As for the Darwinist campaign to use religion to promote evolution in the schools, I’m neither aware of it nor part of it. Evolution Sunday simply gave me the opportunity to speak of the harmony that can exist between theology and science if each will respect the competency of the other in its field of enquiry. Conversation and cooperation are essential, but they can’t happen as long as partisans on both sides of the issue propose either/or positions. The “Open Letter on Religion and Science,” which I signed, affirms 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,” and that this statement is compatible with the biblical witness that God is creator.
Building a bridge between biblical faith and evolutionary science, which the letter calls for, requires us to face the question of biblical interpretation. If Genesis must be read as a modern historical and scientific statement, then the bridge will fall. But, we needn’t read Genesis in such a literal fashion to be faithful to its message, which is that what exists is from God and that this creation is very good.
As a Christian, I affirm God’s intimate involvement in the creation of the universe, but I reject a “God of the Gaps” solution. I also recognize that such beautiful examples of God’s handiwork as the Grand Canyon, Crater Lake, and humankind can have natural explanations. Therefore, on Evolution Sunday, we joined the Psalmist in declaring that the “heavens are telling of the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1).