Pro-evolution project says faith and science are reconcilable

January 13, 2012

A biologist with a scientific interest in evolution-creation debates
attributed a poll saying that three-fourths of Protestant pastors reject
evolution—and close to half believe the earth is about 6,000 years
old—to a common but false idea that science and faith cannot be
reconciled. The survey of 1,000 pastors, released in January, also said
that 74 percent agreed that "Adam and Eve were literal people."

Michael
Zimmerman, academic vice president and provost at Evergreen State
College in Olympia, Washington, said he doubts that a representative
sample of pastors was surveyed by LifeWay Research, an arm of the
Southern Baptist Convention—citing, for example, the 73 percent who
disagreed with the statement "I believe God used evolution to create
people."

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, the biologist
said, is that thousands of Christian clergy 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."

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."

Zimmerman said the Clergy Letter Project has been
officially endorsed by groups including the United Methodist Church, the
Southeast Florida Diocese of the Episcopal Church and the Southwestern
Washington Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Separate
letters have come from Jewish rabbis and Unitarian Universalist clergy.

The
Clergy Letter Project began in 2004 when Zimmerman worked with clergy
in Wisconsin to prepare a statement in support of teaching evolution in
response to a series of antievolution policies passed by the school
board in Grantsburg, Wisconsin. A large re­sponse prompted Zimmerman to
launch the project nationwide.

The group 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." Nearly 425 congregations in the
U.S. and ten other countries have indicated they will participate in
Evolution Weekend 2012 on February 10–12.

The project recently
created a database of 1,000 scientists interested in working with clergy
members to answer questions about all aspects of evolution. —ABP