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PhDs and parishioners

In late 2004, Michael Zimmerman, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of biology at Butler University, was watching early media coverage of the Dover, Pa., intelligent design trial, which broadcast several fundamentalist ministers condemning evolution, and felt frustrated. What he saw was a war between science and religion, and science was losing. So Zimmerman decided to call for a truce. He asked a friend, a member of the clergy, to draft a letter to religious

By | December 1, 2007

In late 2004, Michael Zimmerman, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of biology at Butler University, was watching early media coverage of the Dover, Pa., intelligent design trial, which broadcast several fundamentalist ministers condemning evolution, and felt frustrated. What he saw was a war between science and religion, and science was losing.

So Zimmerman decided to call for a truce. He asked a friend, a member of the clergy, to draft a letter to religious leaders, declaring that science and religion should not be at odds. The letter reads, in part: "We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny."

10,000 clergy have added their names to a pro-evolution letter.

Within a month, 200 clergy members had signed the letter. Over the next year, another 10,000 clergy members throughout the world added their names. Reverend Nancy Rockwell, senior pastor of the Congregational Church in Exeter, NH, says she signed the letter because it offered "another perspective than the perspective of conservative fundamentalist Christians who are against science. There are many clergy who do not see this as an either-or, but feel enriched and grateful at what science does."

To give religious leaders a reason to bring their views to their congregations, Zimmerman suggested that signers designate Feb. 12 (Darwin's birthday), 2006, as the first "Evolution Sunday" - a day to preach that science and religion are indeed compatible.

In 2006, 467 congregations planned their church services around Evolution Sunday, and this year, 618 participated. Rockwell spent 2007's Evolution Sunday sermonizing about Darwin's theory of natural selection: "He understood evolution as endless imaginative scribbling, doodling, tinkering." Leading up to both events, Zimmerman received many phone calls from clergy members looking for references and information about evolution to include in their sermons and provide to their congregations. He pointed them in the direction of some books written about religion and science, but there was only so much one scientist could do, so he enlisted local scientists to offer their services as well. Since July, 496 scientists in 50 states and 25 countries have signed on to help.

Miles Silman, associate professor of biology at Wake Forest University, decided to be a scientific consultant because he had seen the interest in evolution in his Baptist Church. "Whenever these kinds of things come up I act as resource," says Silman, a practicing Christian. When his fellow parishioners ask about intelligent design, "I explain why it's crummy science ... and how it's been refuted."

"Scientists absolutely have a duty to explain what they do to the public. Most are paid on public funds in one way or another," says Kevin Padian, professor of biology at the University of California, Berkeley. He has yet to be contacted by a clergy member, but he is hopeful - especially as the church begins to gear up for next year's Evolution Sunday, which falls on February 10. "It's like one of those Internet dating sites, 'You're a scientist, I'm a clergyman, let's get together.'"

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Comments

Avatar of: Paul Gehrman

Paul Gehrman

Posts: 4

December 14, 2007

Religious superstition is absolutely incompatible with science. Indeed, they are on opposite ends of the intellectual spectrum. To appease this "enemy", scientists do a disservice to science and to the welfare of humanity in general. As long as it remains socially acceptable to bicker over religious dogma, humanity will remain divided. Believers need to be educated, not appeased.
Avatar of: Larry Woods

Larry Woods

Posts: 4

December 14, 2007

This attitude reflects the same brand of stereotype about religion and religious studies as the effort mentioned in the article is intended to combat. Theology is not superstition, it is an old and important intellectual field. \n\nTo lump all theologians and religious people with the anti-evolution fundamentalists is a fundamental mistake. No scientist should base a conclusion on any subject without data or observation.
Avatar of: AARON VOLLRATH

AARON VOLLRATH

Posts: 1

December 14, 2007

I'm going to use the following definition of theology: "the rational and systematic study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truth" (from http://wordnet.princeton.edu/). However, I dispute the existence of "religious truth", because what religion or what elements of any particular religion are in fact true? No scientist should base a conclusion on any subject without data or observation, but what should a religious believer base their conclusions (i.e., faith) on? Theologians may base their studies on myths and traditions carried on for centuries, but does that offer proof that Cronus existed and actually castrated his father? I don't believe that he did, however I do believe that Vishnu is composed of three different forms: Maha Vishnu, Garbhodaksayi Vishnu and Kshirodakasayi Vishnu. \n\nI don't dispute the assertion that Larry Woods made in saying that "(Theology)...is an old and important intellectual field." However, religion itself (not the study of) is, with a high degree of probability, superstition. Except of course for anything regarding Lord Vishnu....
Avatar of: RONALD MATHISON

RONALD MATHISON

Posts: 4

December 14, 2007

Darwin provided one of the most significant contributions to understanding life forms and their place on Earth. Darwinism has changed over the last 150 years with the significant contributions from genetics and other disciples. But, the basic tenants remain intact. Religion is also an evolving discipline, and its basic tenants are also intact. A contradiction does not exist between Darwinism and religion - they are distinct disciples that address quite different issues. Darwin Day, exemplifies a reconciliation - Darwinism is not a threat - it is a fundamental truth compatible with religious thought.
Avatar of: John Crews

John Crews

Posts: 6

December 15, 2007

I want to thank The Scientist for continuing the dialogue of the debate over creationism vs. evolutionism. The salient features of both doctrines are based on highly debatable evidence, evidence that can be easily refuted by the ?other side? without much difficulty. To the evolutionists I argue that science is and of itself real, and that all of science from the dawn of humanity has been to reveal and understand creation (whether scientist know this or believe in this or not). To the creationists I argue a point raised in the book ?A New Kind of Christian? by Brian D. McLaren: Evolution is God?s greatest creation. Life is driven by both creation and evolution. Over time, and perhaps generations from now, both houses of thought will inevitably find themselves joined on the same path as the journey of the soul (?spirituality? and ?religion?) and the journey of the mind (?science? and ?critical thought?) come together and find their common ground.
Avatar of: Mark Farmer

Mark Farmer

Posts: 1

December 17, 2007

As a self-described scientist of faith I often shock people and students when I tell them that I accept that Evolution is the best scientific explanation to account for the diversity of life on Earth but that I do not "believe" in Evolution. For me a "belief" is something that I accept on faith and without a requirement of proof. Science is just the opposite. Always being challenged, always being either supported or refuted by data, by proof, not one's beliefs.\n\nThere is therefore no conflict between these two very different views of the world and it is why I am happy to be a scientist in support of the Clergy Letter Project.
Avatar of: Gil Lawton

Gil Lawton

Posts: 42

January 3, 2008

Capital letters being carefully chosen...\n\nAs one who has set for himself a life's goal of seeking after what are the ultimate Unatainables: Objectivity and Truth, I have spent many a long day studying and thinking on how and why these are the unreachable goals that they are, along with contemplating how science and, indeed, at a minimum set a more humble and self-honest tone than is seen in the adversarial blusterings of many who POSIT themselves to be spokespersons for science and spokespersons for various social and religious schools of persuasions. \n\nTHEY SHARE THE SAME ONTOLOGICAL AND EPISTEMIC PARADOXES... and only quarrel over whose unfalsifiable presuppositions trump the others.\nAnd many scientists, seeing this, find no intellectual contradiction nor incompatibility between being a scientist and ascribing to any OTHER faith-choices. \n\nSerious, brilliant philosophers of science have elucidated the dilemma that science is no less dependent upon assumptions of certain empirically untestable core assumptions than are philosophy and meta-physics generally. What Sir Newton wrestled with -- in assumptions impossible of empirical testing, but which he intuited to be "self-evident truths" he glossed over as such, out of one side of his genius brain, as it were, even as he adamantly insisted upon empirical refutability as distinguishing science from meta-science. Yet many presumptions that have been conceded by many in the formal sciences to have been "self-evident" at one time in science have been found by others of their day, or later, to be wrong, or more interestingly, to interchangeable with certain contradictory assertions. Until the non-Euclidian geometries were found to be enormously useful and applicable to models for explaining some empirical phenomena, for example, such things as straight lines and triangles composed of them, and which could be formally contained in perfect circles seemed Obvious.\n\nThe point here is not to slide off into any particular philosophical cul de sac but, to point out that each and every one of them, including any formal philosophy of science, is constrained by\nthe first essential of any logical model to resolve back into the precise postulates with which one begins. And there is the rub. All science models... no exception... ALL must... repeat MUST... begin with postulates which are intuited, only (not empirically testable, hence not refutable). \n\nAnd it is a safe generality to assert, I enthusiastically assert, that one of the most astounding things learned in Science (capital chosen intentionally) in recent centuries is that not only can new and different postulates be treated as "self evident" and plugged into rational models once DEEMED to be "self-evident," but much progress in the sciences during the twentieth century can be attributed to our doing that. \n\nHow so many of us can be so ignorant of this, and still perceive the sciences to be base upon physicality and empiricality -- and hence distanced from the meta sciences -- suggests that this is one of the best kept secrets of the current day.\n\nJust as many philosophical schools of thought are logically consistent, and yield different "answers" only because they begin with one or more different-than-the-rest ASSUMPTIONS, even so do different branches of philosophy. Even so do different concepts of historicity. (Yes, even historians can differ as to their initial postulations and end up with different views of the same empirical evidence.)\n\nHow devoutly I would wish for a day to come when scientists and political leaders and others would be taught at ENTRY LEVEL to understand just how flexible are one's initial postulations, and how apparent to the human mind many logical conclusions are, which not only can be replaced by other assumptions of what is "self-evident" but, also, how many new paradigms in scientific progress have resulted from precisely such substitutions. \n\nTo appreciate the contributions of our Einsteins and our Feynmans and our Heisenburgs we are constrained to recognize the paradox... the best kept secret of science today, if you will permit... that no unprovable assumption in the sciences is obvious, consistent, falsifiable, nor "right." Not only are the beginning postulates of every great synthesis or paradigm in science at least as arbitrary as the beginning postulates of any philosophy... but all conclusions following from any, are concomitantly arbitrary.\n\nJust as both Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometries are mutually internally inconsistent, even while each is immensely applicable and effective and useful in their proper contexts... so, too, are what many deem to be OBVIOUS conclusions about G_d or Nature or the meaning or purpose of life simply crank out the same answers with which they are begun.\n\nWe ALL are left in this world with nothing more, nor anything less, than choices of working hypotheses. This, I submit, is the best kept secret of the sciences, and leaves them impossible of being distanced any nominally conjectural-only branch of human reason. \n\nHow wonderful it would be if those who BEGIN with an existentialist, anti-theist working hypothesis, and those who begin with a Creationist working hypothesis could sit down and trace back their\nsupposed differences to their sources... sources\nwhich ultimately are CHOICES among alternative I-believes, NEITHER OR NONE of which is any more empircaly grounded than the other.\n\nA debate among politicians? A debate among scientists? A debate among historians, sociologists, psychologists, theologians...\nWould not a wonderful place for beginning be an addressing of the ultimate dilemma: that there are multiple ways of looking at an issue, ALL of which simply begin with the conclusions they end up with... and that it is both dogmatic and fallacious to CLAIM to test nature only in natural ways, when we redundantly find contradictory presumptions to "work" in describing different natural things.\n\nFrom such an honest starting place a debate might produce multip answers, all valid... none empirically ascertainable and, for all we know, each a part of a whole TRUTH greater than the sum of all parts being contended over.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 4

February 12, 2009

As always, the "something from nothing" evolutionists will do anything to further their unprovable position. Pretend to befriend the churchgoers who have rejected the Darwin story, then "teach/mindwash from the inside. Miles Silman explained to his fellow Baptists why intelligent design is "...crummy science and how it's been refuted." What he didn't explain, and cannot, is from where came the atoms, molecules, energy, atmosphere, primordial soup, etc., etc., etc. that are claimed to make up the birthplace of life. Silman?\n\nBill T.\n
Avatar of: Tom Thunnell

Tom Thunnell

Posts: 6

February 12, 2009

Methinks I hear shades of Foucault and Derrida in Mr. Lawton's rant.\n\n Tom Thunnell
Avatar of: Peter Vervaart

Peter Vervaart

Posts: 1

February 12, 2009

Bill T, at least the 'big bang' theory and the theories of quantum physics provide some evidence of from 'where came the atoms, molecules, energy, atmosphere, primordial soup, etc., etc.,' which is more than can be said for the origins of your god (and the many thousands of gods which have existed since humans first decided they needed to rely on such supernatural theories for existence and the beginnings of life!).
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 7

February 12, 2009

I wonder if Mr. Lawton would be willing to step off a cliff with his belief that all Science is based upon a-priori assumptions. I could only imagine his response on his way towards the earth........."What Cliff?"
Avatar of: Nils Jansma

Nils Jansma

Posts: 19

February 12, 2009

This is such a misleading presentation because if features religion vs science. The actual issue is supernatural vs natural. The basic assumption of science is that there is no supernatural domain that has any influence on the physical domain. Evolution explains everything by the process of random change through competitive selection over time. The randomness cannot be directed in any way because that would imply a supernatural cause. So therefore, any clergyperson who subscribes to evolution is saying that he or she does not believe in the supernatural. Anyone who does not believe in the supernatural is an atheist. So I assume that the proposed evolution Sunday sermon is a proposal that the congregation stop believing in the supernatural and start recognizing science as their only hope for the future. By contrast, anyone who believes that evolution has been directed by dark energy, so to speak, is a proponent of intelligent design or more precisely theistic evolution. So, since I think that most, if not all of the 10,000 clergypersons are theists, then they must be very confused when they reject theistic evolution in favor of atheistic evolution. It is my opinion that they must not really know what they are doing.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

February 16, 2009

I don't think that the idea is that evolution is necessarily 'directed.' I understand it that some believe that evolution is the process used for creation, and that even before it was begun, the outcome was known -- all of the stochastic variables of such a complex system are not stochastic to an all-knowing creator (the results of 'the process of random change through competitive selection over time'). In this sense, the creator does not hand-hold evolution through the ages but instead initiates it (big bang).

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