Evolution: good news
- February 13, 2006
At Churches Nationwide, Good Words for Evolution
By NEELA BANERJEE and ANNE BERRYMAN
On the 197th birthday of Charles Darwin, ministers at several hundred
churches around the country preached yesterday against recent efforts
to undermine the theory of evolution, asserting that the opposition
many Christians say exists between science and faith is false.
At St. Dunstan's Episcopal Church, a small contemporary structure
among the pricey homes of north Atlanta, the Rev. Patricia Templeton
told the 85 worshipers gathered yesterday, "A faith that requires you
to close your mind in order to believe is not much of a faith at all."
In the basement of an apartment building in Evanston, Ill., the Rev.
Mitchell Brown said to the 21 people who came to services at the
Evanston Mennonite Church that Darwin's theories in fact had
compelled people to have faith rather than look for "special effects"
to confirm the existence of God.
"He forced religion to grow up, to become, really, faith for the
first time," Mr. Brown said. "The life of community, that is where we
know God today."
The event, called Evolution Sunday, is an outgrowth of the Clergy
Letter Project, started by academics and ministers in Wisconsin in
early 2005 as a response to efforts, most notably in Dover, Pa., to
discredit the teaching of evolutionary theory in public schools.
"There was a growing need to demonstrate that the loud, shrill voices
of fundamentalists claiming that Christians had to choose between
modern science and religion were presenting a false dichotomy," said
Michael Zimmerman, dean of the College of Letters and Sciences at the
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and the major organizer of the letter
Mr. Zimmerman said more than 10,000 ministers had signed the letter,
which states, in part, that the theory of evolution is "a
foundational scientific truth." To reject it, the letter continues,
"is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such
ignorance to our children."
"We believe that among God's good gifts are human minds capable of
critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a
rejection of the will of our Creator," the letter says.
Most of the signatories to the project and those preaching on Sunday
were from the mainline Protestant denominations. Their congregations
have shrunk sharply over the last 30 years. At the same time, the
number of evangelical and fundamentalist Christians has risen
considerably, and many of them, because of their literalist view of
the Bible, doubt evolutionary theory.
The Clergy Letter Project said that 441 congregations in 48 states
and the District of Columbia were taking part in Evolution Sunday,
but that was impossible to verify independently. Around Chicago, two
churches that were listed on the project's Web site as participants
in the event said they were in fact not planning to deliver sermons
on the subject.
Still, those who did attend sermons welcomed what they heard. After
the service at St. Dunstan's, Brett Lowe, a 41-year-old computer
engineer, sat in a pew as his son Ian, 2, and daughter, Paige, 6,
played at his side. "Sermons like this are exactly the reason we came
to this church," Mr. Lowe said.
"Observation, hypothesis and testing � that's what science is," he
said. "It's not religion. Evolution is a fact. It's not a theory. An
example is antibiotics. If we don't use antibiotics appropriately,
bacteria become resistant. That's evolution, and evolution is a fact.
To not acknowledge that is to not acknowledge the world around you."
Jeanne Taylor, 65, a recently retired registered nurse attending
services at St. Dunstan's, said the Bible was based on oral tradition
and today "science is a part of our lives."
At the Evanston Mennonite Church, Susan Fisher Miller, 48, an editor
and English professor, said, "I completely accept and affirm the view
of God as creator, but I accommodate evolution within that."
To Ms. Fisher Miller, alternatives to evolutionary theory proposed by
its critics, such as intelligent design, seem an artificial way to
use science to explain the holy. "It's arrogant to say that either
religion or science can answer all our questions," she said. "I don't
see the need either to banish one or the other or to artificially
Gretchen Ruethling contributed reporting for this article.
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