Don’t expect restaurant lines to rival Easter or Mother’s Day anytime soon, but more than 600 congregations last Sunday indicated plans to participate in Evolution Sunday, commemorating the 198th birthday of “On the Origin of Species” author Charles Darwin.
Alliance of Baptists-affiliated Cross Creek Community Church in Dayton, Ohio, observed Evolution Sunday the first time this year. A worship service featured a movie clip from “Inherit the Wind,” a film based on the famous 1925 Scopes “Monkey Trial,” reading of a clergy letter signed by 10,000 ministers in support of teaching evolution as a call to worship and a sermon opposing the teaching of creationism and Intelligent Design in public schools.
“I did it to help our congregation see the positive relationship and co-existence of religion and science–that it is not an either/or proposition,” Pastor Mike Castle told EthicsDaily.com. “Theologically, I did it to affirm that God is found in the ‘what is’ of life, not separate from it. Therefore, we don’t have to fear scientific truths, but welcome them.”
Michael Zimmerman, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Butler University, started Evolution Sunday after working with about 200 Wisconsin clergy in 2004 to prepare a statement challenging anti-evolution policies by a school board in Grantsburg, Wis.
Zimmerman logged 612 congregations from all 50 states and five foreign countries that committed to participate in Evolution Sunday 2007, up more than 25 percent from last year.
At Heritage Baptist Church in Annapolis, Md., Pastor Henry Green preached a sermon on “Creation and Calling: Our Witness of Love,” taking into account both Evolution Sunday and Valentine’s Day. He said he didn’t use any special resource material or give special attention to the topic of evolution, but met with deacons and held a couple of educational events on the topic on Wednesday nights.
This week Green is attending the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco and leading a session on how to deal with the issue of evolution and creation from the pulpit.
“I hope I will be able to make positive suggestions for others to help pastors across the country to have the courage to say what they believe and know to be true about good science and good biblical theology,” he told EthicsDaily.com.
Quoted from an e-mail in a blog by MSNBC science correspondent Alan Boyle, Zimmerman said there are three major goals for Evolution Sunday.
“First, we want to demonstrate to the American people that religion and science need not be at war,” Zimmerman wrote. “We want people to understand that, unlike what some fundamentalists are saying, they don’t have to choose between religion and science. They can have their faith and modern science.
“Second, we want to significantly elevate the debate about this topic. This is going to be done by having meaningful dialogue in small groups around the country and around the world–rather than having biblical literalists screaming that people believing in evolution are going to hell.
“Third, we want the world to recognize that those loud fundamentalists who say folks have to choose between religion and science are not speaking for thousands upon thousands of Christian clergy members. Indeed, The Clergy Letter itself has now been signed by more than 10,500 Christian clergy members.”
About 250 are Baptists.
“We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist,” the letter says. “We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests.”
The letter urges school boards 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,” it says, “two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.”
Castle told EthicsDaily.com he wondered if he should even deliver his sermon, thinking he would be preaching to the choir, but he received an “overwhelmingly encouraging response.” A geologist, former science teacher, medical doctor and philosophy professor all told him they had never heard such a message in church and it helped them sort out their own feelings about conflicts between religion and science.
In his sermon, Castle said he, like others in his congregation, probably would not be alive today except for science. He is HIV positive, but because of modern science, he said, his diagnosis has been turned from a death sentence into a chronic disease.
“With medical science as my friend, I am more likely to die from a car wreck than AIDS any time soon,” he said.
Castle urged church members not to get caught up in “either/or” discussions about science and faith. “You can have both worlds,” he said. “We need both worlds. We can celebrate the discoveries of both worlds.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.