Science

Evolution Sunday

Today is Evolution Sunday. Or rather, the last day of Evolution Weekend, as the last two annual Evolution Sundays were so successful. It all started with The Clergy Letter Project, in which 11,000 clergy signed a letter stating that evolution should be accepted as scientific fact and taught in schools with no competing theory. From there, the clergy organized an annual function at their churches in which the congregations would focus on bridging the gap between science and religion. They call it Evolution Sunday. These are progressive folks who want to accept the evidence, and not teach creationism, “creation-science”, or intelligent design in classrooms. And they want to integrate the theory of evolution into their faith and interpretation of the bible.  

Of course, this requires a complete abandonment of literalism and a bit of apology. For example, Dr./Rev. Timothy McLemore, senior pastor of one of the participating churches says, “I think the Bible gives us a great creation account, and I think it’s profoundly true,” he said. “I just don’t think it was ever intended to be scientifically true or even historically true.” This is not my personal belief, but I have no problem at all with what Dr. McLemore believes, or anyone else for that matter, as long as they’re in support of teaching evolution, and not any form of creationism, in classrooms.

Another positive aspect of this is that it negates the premise that one must be an atheist in order to “believe” in evolution, or even be a scientist. This is the premise of Ben Stein’s movie Expelled, which is coming out in April.

So, although the compatibility of science and religion is controversial, finding common ground may be the best way to avoid the thwarting of progress.

Here’s an excerpt on evolution from The Clergy Letter Project:

“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. To reject this truth or to treat it as ‘one theory among others’ is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children.”        

And another excerpt on the compatibility of science and religion, which reveals that they even get the magnificence of the universe as discovered through science:

“As I understand the complexities and intricacies of what has been produced through human evolution, not only does it not make me want to run away from God, it strikes a chord of wonder and awe that I can only describe as worship.”       

These guys are on the right track.

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12 Comments

  1. “I think the Bible gives us a great creation account, and I think it’s profoundly true,” he said. “I just don’t think it was ever intended to be scientifically true or even historically true.”

    What does this even mean? If it's not historically or scientifically true, in what sense is it true?

  2. When I was in a Catholic high school, the priests taught that the Genesis creation story was in part a reaction to Babylonian creation. Among its main points were:

    1. The sun, moon, and stars were creations of God, not gods themselves.

    2. God explicitly created mankind to be the pinnacle of creation; mankind was not a side effect or afterthought, as the Babylonians believed.

    3. God created the heavens and earth from the void (or the waters?); the world didn't come from the corpse of Tiamat, slain by Marduk. (Note, however, that the Hebrews still kept an idea of separating the vault of the sky from the waters and earth.)

    (There were some other points of comparison, which I've forgotten.)

    It could be that Rev. Dr. McLemore referred to creation as a parable or "myth" when he denied it as historical or scientific fact.

  3. I can't help but feel that the Babylonian creation story is much more interesting than the Judeochristian one. Especially if humans are just an accident and not the end goal. That seems far more compatible with evolution than the christian creation story.

  4. I was going to make a comment, but flib already posted the gist of what i was thinking.

    “I think the Bible gives us a great creation account, and I think it’s profoundly true,” he said. “I just don’t think it was ever intended to be scientifically true or even historically true.”

    ???????

  5. It's typical wishy-washy feel-good mubmo jumbo, that's all. The first mistake both of you made is to assume that Rev. Dr. McLemore was trying to convey some sort of information or make some sort of point with that statement.

    Not at all, friends! The Rev. Dr.'s only goal with that statement was to reassure his coreligionists that one can accept science and not be a bad Christian because of it. Trying to parse it as a logical statement of fact is missing the point.

    Granted, it's also exactly why I think religion is a load of useless crap that ought to just be done away with already, but that's where his statement came from.

  6. Flib/Sam/Joshua – I agree. It is nonsensical. But who cares what they believe as long as they're not lambasting evolution or promoting intelligent design? I'm a little more than 100% sure that we will never get everyone to see things exactly as we do. And almost equally sure that all Christians aren't going to abandon their faith. If they're going to keep their faith, they have no choice but to come up with some sort of rationalization. I see this as a huge step on the part of Christians to accept reality and stop thwarting progress. In their own way.

  7. I think another way of saying what the reverend was trying to say is that the "good book" is just a good book, not a good science book.

    I don't necessarily think saying that something contains a truth without containing historical or scientific truth is that nonsensical. I will grant that it may have a degree of nonsensicality, but I also grant the possibility of metaphoric truth, symbolic truth, poetic truth or other such "truths".

    It's not that surprising that he's a Methodist, they have some very progressive clergy though having checked the list I see there's a significant percentage who are Unitarian Universalist and by extension not necessarily Christian or even theist. (Yes, this was all leading up to yet another post by me about how wonderful and skeptical Unitarian Universalism is.) :-)

    Seriously though, I do think we skeptics come across as a bit nit-picky when we focus on the one questionable statement from a Christian making not just a personal effort to be pro-science, but a huge commitment to pro-science activism annually. If group of clergy reaches 11,000 congregations per year, many people for whom the question of "will my believing in evolution make me less religious?" will be given an answer based predominantly in scientific truth with a couple of hymns and some metaphoric truth thrown in. Indeed, it *is* definitely a step in the right direction.

    Reading the article linked to provides the answer to what Rev. Dr. McLemore was intending about what kind of truth one might find in the Bible:

    "The Bible is true when it teaches who God is and what God is like. The Bible is true when it describes the human condition. The Bible is true when it teaches us about human relationships."

    I don't hold the Bible in as high of regard as he does. However, I do think it has its moments and it's an important book culturally and has some insights I've enjoyed.

    Also, I think biblical literalism is much more of a fringe movement within Christianity than as it is portrayed by most skeptics. I see it more as a straw man version of Christianity than an actual belief system that could be held in post-Enlightenment times. It's a movement fueled by fear and desperation, their beliefs don't stand up well to any degree of critical thought and their claims are never supported by legitimate evidence –these are the real enemies of reason, people like the Answers In Genesis folks — who really hate that people with ministerial titles are uttering "Darwinist propaganda from the pulpit."

    Just read what the Answers in Genesis people have to say about the Clergy Letter Project: http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs2007/0208evol

    In the interest of full disclosure I do have a seminary degree, and after perusing the list I see that a good number of clergy that I've met or know are on the list (I wish there were more — I'll have to pass it along to those I think would be interested.)

    On that note, let us pray…

    O God, in thy mercy I beseech that Ben Stein would be less of an ass, turn him toward thine truth of evolutionary biology which thou hast made so abundantly clear with mountains of frikkin' evidence that only the densest of the dense might deny. Also, Lord, let us pray that no one high-hats the monkey.

    Amen.

    Now, even though I don't actually believe in intercessory prayer, if I were a practicing minister, I think that would have to be the beginning of my Evolution Sunday service.

  8. waltdakind wrote:

    Also, I think biblical literalism is much more of a fringe movement within Christianity than as it is portrayed by most skeptics.

    Well, usually it's the fundies attempting an argument from popularity, but there's plenty of polls which suggest that at least 40% or so of Americans (I can't remember exact statistics) believe in literal biblical creation. I'm sure, depending on the way those polls were composed and the exact questions they asked, you'll have to take that with a very serious grain of salt. But I would not call that "a fringe movement". Not if they've got such a sizable chunk of the population on their side.

  9. You're right, fringe movement was a poor choice of words. It's not a fringe movement in terms of numbers, though it is a movement that most progressive Christians consider to be as misguided as we do.

    Here's an interesting article that cites Gallup as having said the percentage of Americans beliving the Bible to be inerrant at 35% (though also citing more religiously conservative sources with higher numbers):

    http://www.crisispapers.org/essays-p/glass-darkly

    While I am emphatically not a Christian, I do think it important for skeptics to be somewhat more of aware of the equally sizable chunk of Christians who are open to pro-science, pro-reason discourse so long as it is not disrespectful of their religious beliefs.

    Now, don't get me wrong — I admire and enjoy reading Hitchens and Dawkins as much as the next skeptic, but I do sometimes question if their stances are perpetuating the "premise that one must be an atheist in order to “believe” in evolution" or if alienating religious progressives hinders the spreading of skeptical thought.

  10. I was always taught (in Bible classes, no less) that the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis is poetry, not a literal account of what happened. The point is that God made everything. How God did it and when are irrelevant, and it's quite likely that the intelligence that God gave humans that has allowed scientists to discover and postulate will lead them to finding the details of God's creation process. Ignoring the scientific process because it threatens your theological beliefs makes me wonder how much faith you really have in them.

  11. waltdakind wrote:

    Here’s an interesting article that cites Gallup as having said the percentage of Americans beliving the Bible to be inerrant at 35% (though also citing more religiously conservative sources with higher numbers):

    I think a subtle difference may be to slightly reword the statistics as "X% of christians" rather than "X% of Americans". To many fundies, there may not appear to be a difference, but it makes the percentage sound more impressive.

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