Evolution Sunday: A Middle Path in the Creation-Evolution Debate

Robert Cornwall

Santa Barbara, CA

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

The way in which Americans view issues ranging from global warming to stem-cell research, from psychotherapy to the end of life, is influenced by an ongoing debate over how religion and science relate. The loudest and most strident voices would have us believe that there are two choices: scientific materialism or biblical literalism. Too often, when given such a choice, a sizable number of Americans choose the Bible over science. Sadly, this choice isn't necessary, because there's a compelling middle path that affirms both faith in God and an evolutionary-based science.

Although this mediating voice is often drowned out by the competing extremes, it offers an important way forward that can benefit our nation and planet by rallying a religiously-inclined nation to support important scientific research. While this middle path lacks the political notoriety and financial backing of its rivals, it offers a grassroots opportunity to reclaim a reasoned and faithful approach to modern life. The Clergy Letter Project (www.evolutionsunday.org), initiated by Michael Zimmerman, a scientist and university administrator, is just one of these voices. His "Open Letter Concerning Religion and Science," has garnered more than 10,000 signatures from clergy, biblical scholars, and theologians from across the theological spectrum.

Evolution Sunday, which falls on or near Charles Darwin's birthday, is a tangible expression of this movement. With a moniker designed to catch the public's attention, participating congregations (of which there are nearly 600 from across the country), are making a statement that religion and science need not be enemies, but can instead be partners in an effort to improve the quality of life for us all. Although each congregation will observe this day as they see fit, our observance of Evolution Sunday offers an invitation to the scientific community, inviting it to join us in conversation and cooperation so we can solve the great challenges facing our nation and world, whether they be AIDS, environmental degradation, Alzheimer's disease or the many other plagues on our society.

It's unfortunate that a significant portion of the religious community is suspicious of the scientific community, but many believe that a commitment to evolutionary biology infects science with an ideology that's unfriendly to religion. This fear is fed by creationist and Intelligent Design advocacy groups, such as the Discovery Institute, which labeled last year's inaugural observance of Evolution Sunday an example of "old-time Darwinist religion." While they charged us with being duped by Darwinists intent on foisting a secularist agenda on the country, nothing could be further from the truth. What we want is an honest and open conversation about the relationship of religion and science.

Such a conversation will be difficult because a sizable number of scientists, maybe even upwards of 90% are atheist or agnostic, and they're suspicious of our motives as well. This gap between science and religion has created skepticism of science among large numbers of Americans, and it strains the intellectual credibility of the Christian faith. In grass-roots fashion, Evolution Sunday lays out a different path that brings into the light these false choices and it affirms the principle that affirmation of the theory of evolution, upon which much of our scientific knowledge is based, is compatible with a vibrant faith in God.

I became involved in this movement for two reasons. First, I'm concerned about the effect that unfounded attacks on science will have on our world. Second, I'm concerned about the threat of anti-intellectualism to the Christian faith. It would be ironic if Christianity, which played such an important role in launching the Scientific Revolution, threatened modern scientific discovery and impaired the creative imagination. And so in the spirit of a bridge builder concerned about the welfare of our planet, I will lead our congregation in observing Evolution Sunday on February 11, 2007. We'll celebrate God's gift of creation, encourage our young people to pursue scientific vocations, and we'll invite those on the edge of faith to consider belief in a God who welcomes our intellectual questions.

Dr. Bob Cornwall is pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Lompoc, CA, and signatory to the "Clergy Letter Regarding Religion and Science." His blog "Ponderings on a Faith Journey" can be found at http://pastorbobcornwall.blogspot.com.

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