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."
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.'"