There are (at least) two things that are commonly "known" about religion. First, adherents of very different religions can't get along. Second, there is an ancient struggle between religion and science. As with much common lore, however, these two points are not necessarily true.
In fact, The Clergy Letter Project's new initiative makes it clear that both of these ideas are mistaken. A bit of background about The Clergy Letter Project will help set the stage.
The Clergy Letter Project is an international organization of more than 14,000 clergy and scientists who promote the teaching of evolutionary theory in schools. The Clergy Letter Project's religious leaders, more than 12,700 Christian clergy members, 470 Jewish rabbis and 230 Unitarian Universalist clergy members, have absolutely no problem living and teaching their faith while recognizing the importance, power and scientific accuracy of evolutionary theory.
For these religious leaders, there is simply no conflict between religion and science because they understand that the two fields deal with different facets of the human condition. Furthermore, these religious leaders recognize that their faith does not require them to close their minds to empirical patterns found in the world. Finally, these religious leaders embrace the process of scientific discovery and are confident that such discoveries in no way diminishes their faith.
The Clergy Letter Project's latest initiative is a Letter from Imams demonstrating that Islamic religious leaders share all of these beliefs. The Imam Letter parallels the Christian Clergy Letter, the Rabbi Letter and the UU Clergy Letter in urging that evolution be taught in public schools and recognizing that promoting any particular religious belief in those schools is a violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The second paragraph of the two paragraph Imam Letter could not be any clearer -- nor could it offer any stronger support for the teaching of evolution:
We, the undersigned Imams of the mosques, assert that the Qur'an is the primary source of spiritual inspiration and of values for us, though not for everyone, in our country. We believe that the timeless truths of the Qur'an may comfortably coexist with the discoveries of modern science. As Imams we urge public school boards to affirm their commitment to the teaching of the science of evolution. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.
How wonderful, while at the same time how deliciously ironic, that the theory of evolution can be used as a means to bring together religions that might otherwise be at odds with one another.
One of the overarching goals of The Clergy Letter Project is to demonstrate that the battle that so many want to portray as being between religion and science is actually something very different. In fact, there are religious individuals whose beliefs are at odds with science, and those people, typically fundamentalists regardless of their religion, are convinced that their perspective is the only "correct" one; that all other religious views are wrong. But, regardless of how much attention these people receive, they are in the minority and their views are every bit as much in conflict with the broader religious world as they are with the perspectives of the scientific community. These fundamentalists are attempting to claim all of religion for themselves by casting it in their own image while working feverishly to redefine science in a way that privileges their idiosyncratic readings of ancient texts.
The Imam Letter demonstrates that while fundamentalists come from all religions, Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, as well as other religions, is well populated by thoughtful people who are perfectly able to balance their faith and the findings of science. The Imam Letter demonstrates that Muslim leaders in the United States respect the constitutional separation of church and state every bit as much as leaders of other religious orders. And the Imam Letter demonstrates that religious leaders of all persuasions can be united in wanting our children to receive the best science education possible.
Unfortunately, the Imam Letter also demonstrates that there are those among us who are both ignorant and filled with hatred. In response to a call for signatures on the Imam Letter I've received prank e-mail from people who have nothing better to do than lash out at others. For some reason they think it humorous to try and sign the Imam Letter with vile names I'm unwilling to reproduce here. Somehow cursing at Islam makes these people feel good.
Evolutionary biology teaches us just how closely related all people are and how insignificant racial and religious differences are. The Imam Letter teaches us that people of different faiths have much in common to celebrate.
And the negative responses to this initiative demonstrate just how much ignorance we have to overcome.
If you want to be a part of this process, please visit the Imam Letter on the Web.
Follow Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mzclergyletter