Science vs. Creationism
Weekend 2009 shows growth in participation and media coverage
reported before on the continuing effort of
TheClergyLetterProject.org to encourage reasonable discussion on
the perceived tensions between science and faith – especially the
efforts of various conservative religious groups to require the
teaching of “creation science” in the schools.
Here is part of a report from Michael Zimmerman,
of Butler University, on recent observances of “Evolution Weekend,”
and a couple related matters.
Zimmerman’s note to members of the group:
Now that Evolution Weekend 2009 has successfully
passed, it seems a good time to catch up on events – as well as to
present a fair bit of additional news.
An Update on
Evolution Weekend 2009
I think it is fair to say that the success of
Evolution Weekend 2009 exceeded even my most optimistic
expectations. Our latest count shows that 1,045 congregations from
15 countries participated (www.evolutionweekend.org).
Because the media coverage was so extensive, with reports ranging
from NPR to Fox News, we reached a huge number of folks. Most
importantly, because of your efforts, the nature of the discussion
about the relationship between religion and science has begun to
change. Please check out some of the media coverage on our web site
If you have links to reports that are not listed there, please send
them to me.
Additionally, our list of sermons (http://www.butler.edu/clergyproject/Resources/Res_Sermons.htm)
continues to grow. If you have one that you would like me to list,
please send it along as well.
Finally, and I know that this might sound crazy,
but I am beginning to build our list of participants for Evolution
Weekend 2010 (12-14 February 2010)! If you sign up now, you’ll help
us enormously because we’ll be able to focus our efforts on
expanding our list of participants. So, if you plan to participate
again in 2010, please let me know now. Remember that while your
signature on The Clergy Letter remains good forever, you must sign
up to participate in Evolution Weekend each year. To sign up, simply
drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
An Introduction to
The Evolutionary Times
Michael Dowd (Thank God for Evolution) has
a new on-line publication, The Evolutionary Times (http://evolutionarytimes.org/index.php)
that might interest many of you. The February issue has a story
about Evolution Weekend in it. If you have pictures of Evolution
Weekend events that you would like to share, or if you have an
article you would like to be reviewed for publication in The
Evolutionary Times, please send them to Paul West at
An Update on our
Our three Clergy Letters continue to gather
signatures very nicely. Our original Christian Clergy Letter now has
amassed 11,870 names while our Rabbi Letter has 452 signatures and,
our newest effort, our Unitarian Universalist Clergy Letter, already
has 196 signatures. Please help us expand our base of support by
sending a note to a colleague asking her/him to sign on.
Please take a minute and ask a friend or colleague
who has not yet signed one of The Clergy Letters to do so. This
simple effort means an enormous amount to the long-term success of
The Clergy Letter Project.
Thanks to your efforts, The Clergy Letter Project
has had a phenomenal year. We reached unprecedented numbers of
people with our message that religion and science can be compatible
and we’ve raised the quality of the discourse on this important
topic. With the Texas State Board of Education scheduled to meet in
three weeks to decide upon science standards across the state and
with anti-evolution legislation being introduced in a number of
states, typically in the name of religion, our work is far from
Please sign up now for Evolution Weekend 2010 and
please pass information about The Clergy Letter Project (www.theclergyletterproject.org)
to folks around the globe. Together we can make a difference.
Office of the Dean
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Indianapolis, IN 46208
|A Presbyterian friend asks us
to think about ...
Charles Darwin and the
Teaching of the Church
Click here for comments on this note.
Charles Darwin was born on 12 February 1809. Next
year we will celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth. The
Church of England is taking steps to recognize his birth and his
contributions to the advancement of science.
Click here for one report from The Guardian.
The theory of evolution impacts on some basic
Christian beliefs such as "original sin" and Paul's teaching
regarding "original sin."
It raises questions: If evolution is true,
when did men and women acquire immortal souls? If evolution is
true, does this not mean that other species also have souls?
Indeed, in Mark 16:15, didn't Jesus say: "Go into all the world
and proclaim the good news to the whole creation."
What is the Presbyterian Church doing to
harmonize its theology with modern science? What are we teaching
our children? Do we leave it up to the children to harmonize
what they learn in church with what they learn in the secular
world? Is it not time for the church to rethink its theology –
bringing it into the 21 century? If not now, when?
Sumter, South Carolina
Mr. Tindal added another note from the Anglican
Church, pointing to this report:
Church of England issues 'apology' to
A spokesman for the Church of England has said
the church misunderstood Charles Darwin's work nearly 150 years
ago and that "by getting our first reaction wrong," has
continued an on-going misunderstanding.
At the end of an essay titled "Good religion
needs good science," the Rev. Dr. Malcolm Brown, the Church of
England director of mission and public affairs, addressed Darwin
directly, saying that nearly 200 years after his birth "the
Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you
and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to
misunderstand you still."
The rest of the story >>
And a little note from your WebWeaver:
I'm no expert on this huge subject, but here are a
few quick thoughts:
We have mentioned before (and borrowed from!) John
Shuck's very lively blog, which he calls "Shuck and Jive." He deals
with lots of different subjects, but the evolution-vs.-creationism
question is one of them. For one sample,
click here >>
Also, the Presbyterian Church has a study group on
"science, technology and the Christian faith."
Click here for an introduction to the group. You’ll find
more on their own website >>
So, friends, here’s an invitation to join one thoughtful and
concerned Presbyterian in dealing with an issue which has been with
us for some years, and has been revived lately with Gov. Sarah
Palin’s nomination for Vice President.
What thoughts (or concerns or questions) do you
have on the apparent tension between scientific and traditional
Christian views of creation and evolution?
Please send a note,
to be shared here!
comment on the Darwin celebration
September 19, 2008
Thanks, Doug, especially for the piece
on Darwin and the Teaching Church. We hope to have a
nice workshop in Bayfield in February on Darwin. ...
I'll send along updates as our plans solidify. I think
there will be many others doing similar things. Check
This got its start right here in
Wisconsin, at [the University of Wisconsin,] Oshkosh.
September 21, 2008
It seems to me, as a layman, that one
of our big problems is trying to "harmonize" our
theology with science. This usually means "without
changing our theology." Case in point is the idea of
"immortal soul" and an "immutable God." Belief in
neither of these is essential to being a Christian. That
God changes is a given for Charles Hartshorne and
Process theologians who are Christians and churchmen.
The idea of immortal soul has long been an assumption of
many Christians, but does not seem to be essential if we
believe in a God who is immortal. I trust, in my
resurrection faith, that the essence of who I am and the
good that is in my life (and, unfortunately the bad)
lives in God; but this does not for me require any
self-conscious awareness on my part after I die. It
might be nice to have a self-conscious afterlife, or it
might be that I would be bored out of my mind if I had
no choices to make. An immortal soul might also be our
overly enlarged sense of our own importance if we think
we need to live in some blissful state.
Rethinking our theology might be more
important and truer to our search for truth and our
honoring of Darwin than merely harmonizing our theology
to accepted scientific theory.
Please add your comment.
Just send a note,
to be shared here!
Premier science organization denounces ‘anti-evolution’ legislation
US scientific leaders have launched a new
assault on political attempts to undermine the teaching of evolution in
public schools. The American Association for the Advancement of Science,
supported by 30 other scientific and educational organizations, adopted a
declaration denouncing "anti-evolution" legislation that is pending in 14
No more "intelligent design" as science
Judge rules against Pennsylvania biology curriculum
The Associated Press reports that U.S.
District Judge John E. Jones III has ruled that
"intelligent design" cannot be mentioned in biology classes
in a Pennsylvania public school district, in one of the biggest courtroom
clashes on evolution since the 1925 Scopes trial.
Dover Area School Board members violated the Constitution
when they ordered that its biology curriculum must include the notion that
life on Earth was produced by an unidentified intelligent cause,
Judge Jones said. Several members
repeatedly lied to cover their motives even while professing religious
beliefs, he added.
The full report >>
The Christian Century has two helpful articles in its December 27,
an interview with Nancey Murphy, who brings to bear her advanced
studies in theology and the philosophy of science to talk about "Nature's
observations on the debate by David Steinmetz, who teaches the history
of Christianity at Duke Divinity School.
These are apparently not yet available on the Web. Sorry!
Americans United hails federal court ruling against 'intelligent design'
in public schools
Sweeping decision should bring latest creationist crusade to a halt,
church-state watchdog group says
Their statement >>
Bush endorses 'intelligent design,' contending the theory
should be taught with evolution. [8-5-05]
The Boston Globe reports
Also on TruthOut
Americans United calls Bush endorsement of 'intelligent design' in
public schools "irresponsible"
joins in court case:
No need to disclaim evolution, says brief filed in Cobb County, GA
The Witherspoon Society
has joined an amicus brief filed in support of a recent U.S. District Court
decision, Selman v. Cobb County School District, which ruled that the
evolution "warning labels" required in Cobb County, Georgia, public school
textbooks were unconstitutional. The "friend of the court brief" was filed
in the eleventh circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, in response to an
appeal seeking to overturn the Selman decision.
letter on the integrity of science
Herbert Valentine, former Moderator of the PC(USA), has forwarded an open
letter which makes clear that Christians are not all standing against
science. It may be a good way to tell the Religious Right that they do not
represent the Christianity that many of us know. The author is seeking
people who will add their names in support of the letter.
God and Darwin
In an editorial today, the Washington Post calls
attention to the renewed efforts of some religious groups to challenge the
teaching of evolution by arguing that it is "merely" theory, which they
counter with a theory of their own - essentially the traditional argument
from "intelligent design." The writer warns that although "... t hey do no
experiments and do not publish in recognized scientific journals ... this
new generation of anti-evolutionists, arguing that children have a 'right to
question' scientific truths, has had widespread success in undermining
evolutionary theory." [1-24-05]
|Evolution vs. creationism -
resources for the continuing debate
The evolution-versus-creationism battle
has been going on for decades, especially in struggles in countless local
school boards around the country. We've been asked for material that would
help people deal with the arguments in their own communities.
For starters, we offer a short "op ed"
piece written recently for the St. Paul Pioneer Press by Jamie
Crannell, a science teacher in a Twin Cities high school. He has also been
serving as a member of the Minnesota Academic Standards Committee, which was
created to deal with the designing of new standards in both the natural and
social sciences. The current Secretary of Education in Minnesota, Sharon
Yecke, has been pressing very hard to introduce a conservative slant into
both the social and the natural sciences. With the backing of some
conservative lobbying groups, this has become a battle over such issues as
the demand that "creationism" be taught as a legitimate alternative to the "theory
Crannell, who is an elder in St. Luke
Presbyterian Church, Wayzata, MN, writes as a science teacher and a
Christian, but not as a theological scholar. He also points to a very
helpful and extensive
article in Scientific American that deals with what the author
calls, in cool academic prose, "creationist nonsense."
can suggest (or write!) other resources,
please send a note
and we'll share them all here.
Science Education Under Siege
The ongoing effort to portray evolution as a controversial theory in science
is unfortunate for Minnesotans, for scientific literacy, and for the
education of our children. The Minnesota House recently amended the Science
Standards to insinuate that evolution is not firmly established as science.
This amendment challenges the validity of evolution by
redirecting the intent of the standards. The "History and Nature of Science"
strand, as it was written, contains language that addresses the dynamic
aspect of theories in science.
"The student will be able to explain how scientific and
technological innovations as well as new evidence can challenge portions of
or entire accepted theories and models including but not limited to the cell
theory, atomic theory, theory of evolution, plate tectonic theory, germ
theory of disease and big bang theory."
The committee placed the language where it fits best. The
wording should not be altered or moved. This standard was carefully designed
to contribute to scientific literacy and a life-long understanding of
This amendment is an attempt to undermine science
education in our state. Throughout the process of developing the standards
there was ongoing pressure from special interest groups and public input to
have non-scientific "theories" added to the science standards. One "theory"
was "intelligent design"/creationism which argues that science is incapable
of explaining something as complex as human life; therefore an "intelligent
designer" must be responsible. While there may be an "intelligent designer"
- that is religion and is beyond the scope of science. This amendment is a
way to allow nonscientific "theories" to be part of what is taught as
The arguments in favor of the amendment include
rationalizations that it will lead to a better science education by
fostering critical thinking, academic freedom, and fairness. These arguments
are disingenuous: they do not honestly characterize the science standards.
The history of the development of these standards suggests that the purpose
of amending the standards was really to address the validity of evolution.
Science is about a critical analysis of data and critical
thinking. To insinuate that critical thinking is not a goal because
nonscientific "theories" are not included as science is nonsense. Nothing in
the science standards precludes or limits academic freedom. Nothing limits a
teacher from discussing students' concerns about evolution or any other
Science is both glorious and humble. It helps us make
sense of the amazing and wonderful world around us, but requires us to
understand the world in a humble way - with verifiable facts. Science starts
with observations then identifies patterns to help us understand how the
natural world works. Religion also deals with reality, but adds another
dimension - belief or faith - to our understanding of reality.
Belief is simply not part of the discipline of science;
however, science is founded upon finding a rationale and logical explanation
for what is observed. The theory of biological evolution is the most
plausible current explanation for the diversity of organisms seen today and
throughout the fossil record - from the point of view of science. This is
not a fairness issue; this is how science works.
At a Senate Education subcommittee hearing on March 18,
Senator Bachmann listed many of the common misconceptions about evolution as
reasons why this theory is "controversial." Bachmann mentioned the second
law of thermodynamics, irreducible complexity, and a lack of transitional
fossils. These misconceptions are clarified and explained in
an article published in
Scientific American in July 2002.
The science standards were developed
according to a process that included a diverse committee of teachers and
non-teachers, scientists and lay people. Public input was gathered and
considered. The final draft was submitted to the legislature after being
recommended for adoption by the Commissioner of Education. Both scientists
and science educators support the standards. The science standards need to
be passed as written, without amendment.
Minnesota Academic Standards Committee member
Science Teacher at Chaska High School
If you can
suggest (or write!) other resources,
please send a note
and we'll share them all here.
|More on evolution and creationism
Last week we posted an
essay on the debate over the teaching of science - and specifically
evolution - in our schools. We invited comments, and we've received a very
helpful note arguing against the use of the term "theory" in relation to
evolution, and pointing to resources for those who want more information.
To the webmaster-
The best book I have found on evolution from a Christian perspective is
Finding Darwin's God, A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and
Evolution by Kenneth R. Miller (Cliff Street Books, 1999), professor of
Biology at Brown University. Other excellent books are The Sacred Depths
of Nature by Ursula Goodenough (Oxford University Press, 1998),
professor of Biology at Washington University, and for an historical
perspective, The Creationists, the Evolution of Scientific Creationism
by Ronald Numbers (Univ. California Press, 1993), professor of Science
History at the University of Wisconsin. [Scroll down to
order any of these books through Amazon.com]
An excellent web site is
- The Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy.
I take strong exception to the term "theory of evolution." There are
actually three issues here.
there is the FACT of evolution: organisms are related by common descent with
modifications. This is established with the utmost certainty and is beyond
many conclusions of evolutionary history are well established; e.g.,
chimpanzees and gorillas are more closely related to humans than to baboons
or other monkeys. Other conclusions are less certain. Still others remain
largely unresolved; e.g., precisely when did life originate on earth.
current understanding is limited on the mechanisms or processes by which
evolutionary changes occur. The generally accepted theory is that mutations
occur in genetic material (DNA) at essentially a constant rate, and "useful"
mutations are then perpetuated by natural selection.
-- Patrick Magee, Elder, Stone Church of
Willow Glen (PCUSA), San Jose CA
Some blogs worth visiting
Mitch Trigger, PVJ's
Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where
Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and
views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both
personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!
You can post your own news and views,
or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.
for Life" website
Long-time and stimulating blogger John Shuck,
a Presbyterian minister currently
serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton,
Tenn., writes about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized
and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and
Click here for his blog posts.
Click here for podcasts of his radio program, which "explores
the intersection of religion, social justice and public life."
John Harris’ Summit to
Theological and philosophical
reflections on everything between summit to shore, including
kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology,
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens
neighborhood of Ridgewood -- by a progressive New York City
Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon
board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in
Voices of Sophia blog
Heather Reichgott, who has created
this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:
After fifteen years of scholarship
and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the
voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy,
students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers
and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God
in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God
through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through
articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and
Got more blogs to recommend?
send a note, and we'll see what we can do!