Why do they do it? Why do hundreds of religious groups from all corners of the world opt to celebrate Evolution Weekend each year? Why do they spend time talking about science, supporting science, promoting science - all in the context of their faith?
While the specific answer is slightly different for every congregation, the general answer is very simple. They do it because they want to reclaim religion from the small but incredibly vocal group that has been attempting to define it in such a narrow manner that it excludes most people of faith. They do it because they want to demonstrate that their faith cannot be at odds with the way the world functions or, in other words, the process of science. And they do it because they believe that meaningful discussion is far better than shouting, that discourse and understanding leads to respect.
Under the auspices of The Clergy Letter Project, these congregations, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Unitarians, and many more, have been celebrating Evolution Weekend annually for ten years. During this decade, approximately three-quarters of a million people have participated in an event that in diverse ways has demonstrated that religion and science need not be in conflict. During this decade, many millions more, via media stories in markets big and small, have learned that deeply devout individuals can respect the scientific method and that many truly religious scientists have added immeasurably to our understanding of the natural world.
The Christian Clergy Letter, signed by 12,994 Christian clergy members all across the United States, demonstrates the healthy relationship possible between religion and science when it says, "Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts."
Similarly, the Dalai Lama, powerfully articulates the appropriate intersection between faith and fact, in the epigraph to The Buddhist Clergy Letter: "If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims or adopt them as metaphor."
Together, the thousands of clergy and the hundreds of thousands of their parishioners who celebrate Evolution Weekend, are demonstrating that the supposed war between religion and science, and even more specifically between religion and evolution, doesn't exist. While they understand that there are some religious sects that shun the modern world, that find reason to attack the findings of science on supposedly theological rather than on scientific grounds, they also know that people holding such beliefs are outliers on the religious spectrum.
Their goal is to demonstrate that those who argue that a choice has to be made between religion and science are presenting a false dichotomy. Their actions show just how easy it can be to embrace religion while recognizing that the methodology of science provides a potent means to understand the natural world. The clergy who have embraced The Clergy Letter Project are astute enough to appreciate that different disciplines ask and answer different questions. Indeed, they want to celebrate those differences and, in the words of The Christian Clergy Letter, they ask "that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth."
Clergy and parishioners have been celebrating Evolution Weekend for a decade. Those who have participated have found their faith to be stronger even while they deepen their understanding of the nature of science.
The Tenth Annual Evolution Weekend is scheduled for 13-15 February 2015. Take a look at the Evolution Weekend web site for a congregation near you and join in the discussion.
Whether you make it to a participating congregation or not, you can join the movement easily. If you're a clergy member and would like to add your signature to one of our Clergy Letters, drop me a line. If you're a scientist and want to join our list of scientific consultants, let me know. Or if you're simply interested in our efforts and want to be on our mailing list, I can arrange for that as well.
Whatever you decide, please accept my best wishes for a thoughtful and provocative Evolution Weekend.