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Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D.

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Redefining The Creation/Evolution Controversy

Posted: 03/03/10 04:43 PM ET

Here's a simple, two-question test.

1. Which of the following is different from all the others?

A. Cuba
B. Iran
C. Israel
D. Tajikistan
E. Texas


The correct answer depends on your perspective. Cuba is the only island in the group. Iran is the only Islamic republic in the group. Israel is the only one that guarantees citizenship to anyone of Jewish heritage. Tajikistan is the only landlocked geographic region. Texas is the only one that isn't a nation.

All those answers, and lots of others, are interesting -- but not as interesting as the fact that the national academies of science of Cuba, Iran, Israel, and Tajikistan have all signed a statement on the teaching of evolution while the Texas State Board of Education has made it clear that it has serious doubts about the subject.

In fact, 63 other academies of science have joined with those of Cuba, Iran, Israel, and Tajikistan to promote the teaching of evolution. Additionally, myriad disciplinary scientific societies have issued similar statements. In short, there simply isn't any scientific controversy about the importance of evolutionary theory -- even while, as with every scientific theory, we continue to learn more details every day.

2. What do the following have in common?

A. Sarah Palin's claim that health care reform will lead to "death panels."
B. The birthers' claim that President Obama was born in Kenya.
C. The constant refrain that the evolution/creation controversy is a battle between religion and science.

The simple answer is that there is overwhelming evidence demonstrating that each statement is false while proponents of each hope that the frequency and volume of repetition substitutes for truth.

The mere existence of the Clergy Letter Project, an international organization I founded that is comprised of thousands of clergy members and scientists, demonstrates that religious leaders and scientists are not inherently at odds. After all, more than 12,400 Christian clergy members from all across the United States have signed the Christian Clergy Letter, a powerful, two-paragraph statement promoting a shared understanding and acceptance of evolution and Christianity.

What could be clearer than these sentences from that Letter? "Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts[...]. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth."

The thousands of Christian clergy members who have affixed their signatures to the Christian Clergy Letter are a remarkably diverse group. They are men and women, liberals and conservatives. They represent many races, a host of denominations and some come from tiny, rural parishes while others preach in some of our largest cathedrals. Some were ordained this year while others have been serving for more than half a century.

As diverse as they are, they have three things in common: they all have an abiding faith in their religion, having devoted a significant portion of their lives to understanding and promoting Christianity; they all recognize the scientific centrality of evolution, advocate that it be taught in our schools, and understand that it poses no threat to their faith; and they've all been attacked mercilessly for their beliefs by those who think their view of religion is the only one that matters.

Consider just one such attack -- one made by Robert Bowie Johnson in his book entitled Sowing Atheism: The National Academy of Sciences' Sinister Scheme to Teach Our Children They're Descended from Reptiles. He wrote, "In my judgment, only morons -- more than 11,500 morons in this case -- could sign a letter maintaining that the 'timeless truths of the Bible' are compatible with the billions of unpredictable aberrations of evo-atheism. What do these apostate morons celebrate at their Sunday services, the lies about humanity's origins told by Moses, Jesus, and Paul?" It's worth noting that Johnson's book, along with his bizarre opinions, was solidly endorsed by Don McLeroy when he was chair of the Texas State Board of Education last year and working to protect Texas school children from the evils of evolution.

When American rabbis and Unitarian Universalist clergy members heard about the Christian Clergy Letter, they felt strongly enough about evolution that they wanted their own. More than 460 rabbis and 220 UU clergy have now signed those letters.

The United Methodist Church formally endorsed the Clergy Letter Project at its general conference in 2008, and many other denominations have issued statements fully supporting evolution.

Scientists have joined the effort as well. Almost 900 scientists from 29 countries have signed on as consultants to the Clergy Letter Project.

These scientists have agreed to work with clergy to advance their understanding of evolution and the nature of science.

So, thousands of religious leaders and the world's best scientists are in agreement that evolution is first-rate science that should be taught in our schools. And yet vocal fundamentalists continue to say that religion and evolution are incompatible and work tirelessly to find a way to force their religious doctrines into public school science classes and laboratories.

It's time to look at the fight with fresh eyes. It no longer makes any sense to talk about the issue being a battle between religion and science since so many religious leaders and scientists are comfortable working together. What's really going on is a fight between those who have a very narrow view of religion and religious leaders who think a good deal more broadly.

Those who are attacking evolution are attempting to define all religion in their own image and to marginalize all alternative religious voices in their single-minded attempt to promote their minority perspective.

The evolution/creation controversy is really a struggle between alternative religious worldviews and has precious little to do with science. But, because of the way it has been cast for all these years, science education has suffered significantly.

 
 
 

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