Transforming How the World Sees Science and Religion
This past March, historian of science Ronald Numbers had a wonderful book released. The book, edited by Numbers, is entitled Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion. The introduction begins with the following provocative statement: “The greatest myth in the history of science and religion holds that they have been in a state of constant conflict.” He and other contributors explain how much of the perceived conflict between science and religion is not much more than a combination of manufactured hype and ignorance. I recommend the book highly.
As the founder and director of The Clergy Letter Project (www.theclergyletterproject.org), an organization devoted to demonstrating that religion and science can comfortably and productively coexist, I’m well aware of the power of both of the points made in Numbers’s book.
Many vocal, fundamentalist ministers and atheistic scientists proclaim that people must choose between religion and evolution. In perhaps its most extreme version, Pat Robertson went so far as to proclaim that disaster may well visit Dover, Pennsylvania. The Fox report of the incident reads, “Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson warned residents of a rural Pennsylvania town Thursday that disaster may strike there because they ‘voted God out of your city’ by ousting school board members who favored teaching intelligent design.” On the other hand, Richard Dawkins says that if you do not accept evolution you are “ignorant, stupid, or insane.”
Cynical anti-evolutionary leaders know that if forced to choose between religion and science, the majority of people will likely opt for religion, so they do everything they can to perpetuate the belief that such a choice must be made. I’m delighted to say that thousands of far less cynical religious leaders and scientists have banded together to demonstrate that no such choice need be made; that it’s perfectly possible to be deeply religious and to understand and appreciate all that modern science has to offer.
Indeed, more than 12,000 Christian clergy members in the US have signed The Christian Clergy Letter, demonstrating the importance of both religion and evolution. The thousands of ministers endorsing this statement come from every state in the Union and they represent some of our smallest congregations as well as some of our largest cathedrals. Some were ordained decades ago while others just this year. Some are conservative and some are liberal. Men and women of virtually every race are represented. The single thing that ties them together is their abiding commitment to Christianity – and yet this incredibly broad group of religious leaders has stepped forward to encourage the teaching of evolution.
These Clergy Letters should set aside any doubt that deeply religious people can accept evolution.
In its continued attempt to stress this point and in the hopes of raising the quality of the dialogue on this important topic, The Clergy Letter Project sponsors an annual Evolution Weekend event. On the weekend closest to the anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin (12 February), congregations all over the world take steps to achieve these goals. Many congregations hear sermons on the topic while others participate in a discussion group. Others structure Bible classes, for adults and/or students, on the topic while still others invite speakers to address the issue. Each participating congregation does what it feels will be most productive for its congregants while, collectively, around the world, an incredibly powerful message is being sent. The events began in 2006 and in each succeeding year participation has increased by more than 30 percent. In February 2009, 1,049 congregations from 15 countries participated. Evolution Weekend 2010 is scheduled for 12-14 February 2010.
Additionally, The Clergy Letter Project has created a list of scientific consultants who are eager to advise clergy members on scientific issues. This list includes more than 850 scientists representing every state and 29 countries. Some of the scientists on the list are deeply religious, and represent a variety of religious traditions. The point is that the mere existence of the list demonstrates conclusively that scientists and religious leaders are perfectly capable of working together.
Scientists and religious leaders, together, are transforming the way the world perceives the relationship between religion and science and both fields are being enriched by their actions.
Michael Zimmerman is Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Professor of Biology at Butler University. As an ecologist, Zimmerman focuses on plant-animal interactions, particularly those associated with pollination. Zimmerman also has a professional interest in science literacy in general and the evolution-creation controversy in particular. Zimmerman's work has appeared regularly on the op-ed pages of many newspapers nationwide. He has been elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and founded The Clergy Letter Project .