OLYMPIA, Wash. (ABP) – A biologist with scientific interest in the evolution-creation debate attributed a recent LifeWay Research poll reporting that three-fourths of Protestant pastors reject evolution, and nearly half believe the earth is about 6,000 years old, to a commonly held but false idea that science and faith cannot be reconciled.
Michael Zimmerman, academic vice president and provost at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., said he doubts that the 73 percent of pastors who told the Southern Baptist Convention research department that they disagreed with the statement “I believe God used evolution to create people” are a representative sample. Either way, Zimmerman said, “It is a shame that the respondents find that their religion demands that they turn away from the facts of the natural world.”
The good news, Zimmerman said, is that thousands of Christian clergy members understand science in a way that poses no threat to their faith. Nearly 13,000 have signed an open letter affirming belief that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist and supporting the teaching of evolution to children in public schools.
“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,” the letter says. To reject that truth or to treat it as “one theory among others,” the letter states, “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,” the letter continues. “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.”
The Clergy Letter Project has been officially endorsed by groups including the United Methodist Church, Southeast Florida Diocese of the Episcopal Church and Southwestern Washington Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Separate letters exist for Jewish rabbis and Unitarian Universalist clergy.
The Clergy Letter Project began in the fall of 2004, when Zimmerman worked with clergy in Wisconsin to prepare a statement in support of teaching evolution in response to a series of anti-evolution policies passed by the school board in Grantsburg, Wis. The overwhelming response prompted Zimmerman to launch the project nationwide.
The Clergy Letter Project also sponsors annual Evolution Weekend events on the weekend closest to Charles Darwin’s birthday, a date described by Zimmerman as “no better time to demonstrate the ways in which a mature and robust relationship between religion and science might take place.”
A total of 424 congregations from 47 states and Washington, D.C., and representing
10 countries are scheduled to participate in Evolution Weekend 2012 on Feb. 10-12.
Zimmerman said the initiative counters not only assertions by the “fundamentalist right” that require a single, literal interpretation of the Bible and marginalize all who disagree, but also quarters of the left best reflected by the “new atheists” who say that all religion is nothing more than superstition at odds with modern science and ought to be abandoned.
“Many religious leaders understand that religion is not dependent upon a single, literal interpretation of any text,” Zimmerman wrote last year in an article for Patheos.com. “Instead, the overwhelming majority of the religious leaders with whom I interact regularly believe that religion is about morality and spirituality rather than science. They want to make the world a better, a fairer and a more just place, and they believe they can accomplish that within a spiritual community.”
Recently the Clergy Letter Project created a database of more than 1,000 scientists interested in working with clergy members to answer questions about all aspects of evolution.
“The very existence of this list clearly demonstrates the willingness of scientists to work collaboratively with clergy members,” says a description on the Clergy Letter Project website. “Together, scientists and clergy members demonstrate that religion and science can have a complementary and positive relationship with one another.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.