Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Evolution Weekend

  1. by Michael Zimmerman, The Clergy Letter Project

The fourth annual Evolution Weekend will be celebrated February 13-15, 2009. As of today, more than 1,000 congregations from many denominations and representing 15 countries are scheduled to participate.

Organized under the auspices of The Clergy Letter Project, an organization of more than 13,000 clergy and scientists from all corners of the globe, Evolution Weekend is an opportunity to accomplish a number of important goals:
  1. The yearly event has significantly raised the quality of the discourse about the relationship between religion and science. Rather than simply hearing such absurd statements as “If you believe in evolution, you’re going to hell,” participants have been able to discuss the positive ways that religion and science may play complementary roles in society;
  2. Like The Clergy Letter itself, Evolution Weekend strikingly makes the case that clergy from a host of religions and denominations, and from all around the world, have absolutely no trouble reconciling their deeply held religious beliefs with the tenets of modern science in general and evolution in particular; and
  3. Evolution Weekend conclusively demonstrates that the public battle taking place in statehouses and in front of local school boards, in the media and from some pulpits, is not one between religion and science but, rather is a battle between different religious ideologies. In this respect, Evolution Weekend participants are combating those who would have us believe that their particular brand of fundamentalism is the norm. Instead, Evolution Weekend participants are celebrating the fact that our understanding of religion and faith is both broader and deeper than what some would have us believe. They are also showing that we have room for people of many different faith traditions.

Evolution Weekend has been designed as a non-centralized celebration. Each participating congregation constructs an event that makes the most sense within that congregation’s local context. Over the years, some congregations have heard sermons delivered on the broad topic of the compatibility of religion and science (and you can read more than 100 of them on The Clergy Letter Project’s web pages while others have had a lunch discussion. Still other congregations have invited speakers to address them while others have watched pertinent DVDs. The important point is that in every case, the quality of the dialogue about the relationship between religion and science has been elevated.

Some have attacked the event by claiming that the intent has been to raise Darwin to the status of a saint and to pray to him. Nothing could be further from the truth. The event is more about Darwin’s ideas than about Darwin the individual. It is about demonstrating that the choice some demand be made between religion and science is a false dichotomy.

Others have said that the title of the event, Evolution Weekend, is too confrontational. They have indicated that their congregations would participate if the name were changed to something like Religion and Science Weekend. This is probably an accurate assessment. However, there are very important reasons why the name remains Evolution Weekend, even while the message is quite broad. Simply put, the most public battle between religion and science regularly occurs over the teaching of evolution. Because some believe that evolution is incompatible with their religious beliefs, they have regularly attempted to remove evolution from schools or to demand that some alternative, non-scientific view be taught alongside evolution. It is time for all of us to reclaim evolution, to promote the fact that evolution is absolutely central to all of biology and to many of the other sciences as well. To rename Evolution Weekend something else would be to miss this critical opportunity to help promote scientific literacy.

Despite these criticisms, support for Evolution Weekend continues to grow dramatically. Recently, for example, The Clergy Letter Project and Evolution Weekend have been formally endorsed by the United Methodist Church and by the Southeast Florida Diocese of the Episcopal Church.

If your congregation would like to participate in Evolution Weekend 2009, simply send an e-mail note with the name and location of your congregation to Michael Zimmerman. You’ll immediately be added to the growing list of participants

If you’re a member of the Christian clergy in the United States, you might want to add your signature to The Clergy Letter. Or if you’re an American rabbi, you might want to add your signature to The Rabbi Letter. Or, if you’re a scientist willing to work with clergy to answer scientific questions, you might want to add your name and expertise to The Clergy Letter Project’s list of scientific consultants. To do any of these things, just send a note to Michael Zimmerman.

Please help make Evolution Weekend 2009 the biggest and best yet.

Listen to report on
Michael Zimmerman is the founder and director of The Clergy Letter Project. Additionally, he is the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and professor of biology at Butler University in Indianapolis.

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