Why Should People of Faith observe Evolution Weekend?
It’s been said that science and religion are at war, and the partisans on both sides seem to agree on one thing: If evolution is true, then God doesn’t exist.
Because biblical literalists and proponents of “Intelligent Design” have captured the attention of the media and provided fodder for atheists such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, it might appear that there are only two choices: atheism and science or belief and biblical literalism. There is, however, a middle ground, and many of us in the faith community believe that it’s unnecessary to make a choice between God and Darwin.
Although I’m concerned about what some call scientific materialism, I’m equally concerned about what I perceive to be an anti-science perspective that goes under the guise of “scientific creationism,” or its more respectable version -- “Intelligent Design.” These efforts have sought to undermine the scientific consensus that holds evolution to be the explanation for the origins and development of life on earth.
These challenges have more to do with religion than science, but unfortunately in their attempt to wrap religious doctrine in scientific language, they have influenced public perception of science and in the course of time have done harm to both to science and to faith. It has undermined the intellectual credibility of our faith traditions, especially the Christian faith, and it could have catastrophic implications for the environment, for medicine, and for our economy.
Consider for a moment this fact – most of our medical advancements, the ones that save lives every day, are predicated on the theory of evolution. In addition, the growing skepticism about science has led to a rejection of the scientific consensus that we are experiencing global warming, and I believe this skepticism that has religious roots, has discouraged young people from pursuing the study of science.
Some of us who are concerned about the current state of affairs have been observing Evolution Weekend (Feb. 10-12 this year). Since 2006, hundreds of congregations from across the country have stepped forward and declared that the planet and its inhabitants require our support. Clergy like me are recognizing that we have a voice that needs to be heard, if for no other reason than that important scientific discoveries could be delayed or dispensed with by religiously motivated opponents to science.
Participants in Evolution Weekend have been accused of participating – perhaps unwittingly – in a grand ruse or conspiracy to introduce bad science and atheistic ideology into our schools. We have been told that the vast majority of Americans reject Darwinism – and thus the reigning theory of evolution – because they see through the science and ideology.
Speaking for myself, I must say, I’ve not been duped by a Darwinist conspiracy. I have nothing to gain from such participation, except that it arises from a concern for important scientific challenges – such as global warming – and from a concern for the reasonableness of my faith profession. Not being a scientist, I cannot speak to the intricacies of the evolution or Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. Yet a common sense look at the issues suggests that Darwin might be right.
As a person of faith who seeks truth, wherever it leads, I’m convinced that while there may be disagreements on the details of the theory of evolution, they are in agreement as to the basic premise that we all life has a common origin. In making this affirmation I don’t a secularist agenda, for I do believe in God the Creator, but I believe that science must inform my understanding of God’s creative ways. From Darwin’s time to the present, good Christian theologians have been able to reconcile the two. It’s not just liberals, but even conservatives such as Benjamin B. Warfield have sought to find common ground. Why? It is a commitment to follow facts as they’re made known where they lead.
Each participating congregation has in its own way of observing Evolution Weekend. But, we hold in common this desire -- to address the fears of those who believe that Darwin and evolutionary theory is a threat to faith. In response to these fears, we suggest that people of faith find a way to build a bridge of understanding. Although this project is relatively new, the need for religious people to address this issue isn’t new. In each new generation theologians and religious leaders have stepped forward to deal with the issue.
“Evolution Weekend” grew out of an open letter written by a science professor calling on clergy to voice concern about efforts to undermine the teaching of evolution in our schools. I was one of the early signatories, and in time the “Clergy Letter Project" has garnered more than 10,000 signatures. Among the signatories are well-known theologians and bible scholars, but the majority are local clergy from a wide range of denominations and faith traditions, from evangelical to Muslim. Those of us who have signed the letter or have participated in this project haven’t celebrated either atheism or scientific materialism, but we have sought to hold up the importance of a reasonable faith. Therefore, as a person of faith, I have staked a claim in the debate and have refused to capitulate to those who want us to make either/or choices – God or Darwin.
As a Christian, I affirm God’s intimate involvement in the creation of the universe, but I also recognize that such beautiful examples of God’s handiwork as Crater Lake and Mount Shasta (I grew up in close proximity to both), the Grand Canyon, the Sleeping Bear Dunes, as well as our human bodies have natural explanations. Both the scientist and the theologian describe the same phenomenon but they use different vocabulary and tools to do so. If we are willing to recognize and affirm the contributions of both the scientist and the theologian there can be a meaningful and profitable conversation – a conversation that has important consequences for human society and the planet we inhabit.