02/10/2014 07:08 pm ET Updated Apr 12, 2014

The Adler Planetarium Demonstrates That Religion and Science Don't Need to Debate

The recent "debate" between Ken Ham, the head of the world's largest creationist organization, and Bill Nye, the science guy, was certainly lucrative. Nye was supposedly paid $50,000 for participating and I'm certain that the theme park called The Creation Museum made far more from the almost three-hour spectacle.

But lucrative is not the same thing as useful.

The fact that the "debate" took place will lead many to believe that there was something to debate -- that is, that there are two competing paradigms, and only one of them could be correct. But they'd be wrong. While we know that creationism in all of its guises -- from Ham's Young Earth beliefs through "creation science" all the way to intelligent design -- has no science behind it, Ham and others still believe that if they raise questions about aspects of the world that evolution cannot (yet) explain or which has nothing to do with evolution, they will generate support for creationism. But, even if evolution were shown to be incorrect, and I hasten to add that no one has been able to do that, that wouldn't provide a shred of evidence for creationism.

No, Ham made it clear that the "debate" was not about science but about a world view. He said, very clearly, that because he's a Christian, no evidence could change his reading of the Bible, and the Bible tells him that the Earth was created about 6,000 years ago. In short, Ham is perpetuating the myth that Christians, at least Christians as Ham defines them, have to disregard science when scientific evidence appears to be inconvenient.

But Ham's view is just one narrow perspective. As I've written so very often, The Clergy Letter Project, a collection of almost 14,000 clergy from across the United States, proves this point. Members know that that their faith is in no way challenged by scientific advances.

But you don't have to take my word for this. The Adler Planetarium in Chicago, the nation's oldest and one of its best known planetariums, in conjunction with The Clergy Letter Project's celebration of Evolution Weekend 2014, is hosting an event entitled "Clergy Contributions to Science."

Dr. Grace Wolf-Chase, an astronomer at Adler and a senior research associate in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago, is the organizer of the event. As she describes it, the purpose is very simple:

The Adler's event is focusing on clergy contributions to science to raise awareness of the fact that not only do a great many clergy support science, but many have made, and continue to make, important contributions to science. Perhaps this event will help inspire some who fear that science is threatening to their faith.

In her typically articulate manner, she talks about the need for events of this sort and why it makes sense for a great scientific institution like the Adler to be involved:

The Adler Planetarium's mission is to inspire exploration and understanding of our Universe. This often requires helping to remove barriers that inhibit participation in this great adventure. What I personally hope to accomplish with this, and, hopefully future, events, is to help build communities of trust, which can form a basis for real dialog and understanding across different cultures. It is impossible to have a real dialog when each party involved has no sense of where the other is "coming from."

Consider the following five events that will be part of the festivities in light of the false belief that religion and science need to be at odds with one another:

• Br./Dr. Guy Consolmagno S.J., curator of the Vatican Meteorite collection and planetary scientist, will give a talk entitled "Doing Science as a Member of the Clergy;"

• The Rev. Bruce Booher, pastor of First Lutheran Church in Plano, IL, combines his faith with his undergraduate physics degree from MIT in his work promoting science, mystery and awe. His talk is entitled "Standing in Awe;"

• The Rev. Chuck Ruehle, a retired ELCA minister, works in Tanzania as part of an Astronomers without Borders project using telescopes and astronomy to promote an inquiry-based pedagogy for teaching math, science, and geography. His talk is entitled "Teaching Astronomy off the Grid;"

• Dr. Lea Schweitz is a faculty member at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago (LSTC), where she teaches courses in Systematic Theology, Philosophy of Religion, and Science and Religion. She also serves as director for the Zygon Center for Religion and Science, where she is committed to bringing religious traditions together with the best scientific knowl¬edge in order to promote a more just and peaceful world. Her talk is entitled "Teaching Religion and Science Across the Seminary Curriculum;" and

• The Rev. Phil Blackwell is senior pastor of the First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple. Over a 45-year ministerial career he has led innumerable science and religion reading groups in the congregations he has served. His talk is entitled "Leading Science and Religion Study Groups in Churches."

Adler's "Clergy Contributions to Science" will be held on Tuesday, 18 February 2014 from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Although the event is free, participation is limited, so a reservation is needed. To make a reservation contact Dr. Wolf-Chase at

I understand that most of you reading this will not be able to make it to Chicago for the event -- but you might want to check out Adler's homepage to learn about some relevant podcasts. Nonetheless, the purpose of the event, if not the details, should be abundantly clear. There's no need to "debate" false dichotomies. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Adler for sponsoring a day enhancing meaningful dialogue.