Evolution Sunday, an annual event held in churches the last two years to promote the idea that science and faith are compatible, this year is being expanded and renamed Evolution Weekend to make it more inclusive for members of all religions.

Nearly 800 congregations in all 50 states and nine countries are expected to participate in Evolution Weekend, scheduled Feb. 8-10. It is an offshoot of the Clergy Letter Project, an open letter with more than 11,000 signatures–including about 200 Baptists–which maintains that religion and science are not adversaries and that those who claim people must choose to believe one or the other create a false dichotomy.

The idea started in 2004, when Michael Zimmerman, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Butler University, worked with clergy in Wisconsin to prepare a statement in support of teaching evolution in public schools. Support poured in from clergy around the country, he said, prompting him to make it a nationwide project.

A total of 467 churches signed up for the first Evolution Sunday in 2006. Last year the number grew to 618 congregations.

“For too long, the misperception that science and religion are inevitably in conflict has created unnecessary division and confusion, especially concerning the teaching of evolution,” Zimmerman said on a Web site. “I wanted to let the public know that numerous clergy from most denominations have tremendous respect for evolutionary theory and have embraced it as a core component of human knowledge, fully harmonious with religious faith.”

This year the Texas Faith Network, which is part of the Texas Freedom Network, a statewide group that counters the Religious Right, is partnering with the Clergy Letter Project to promote Evolution Weekend in Texas, where the State Board of Education is about to begin revising science curriculum standards in Texas. Some state board members have called in the past for teaching the religion-based concept called “intelligent design” alongside evolution in science classes. More recently, board members have insisted that curriculum standards call into question the scientific evidence for evolution.

“We are encouraged by the efforts of clergy to remind us all that there is no conflict between faith in God and giving our children a sound science education,” said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network education fund. “Public schools should be making sure students are prepared to succeed in college and the jobs of the 21st century, not deciding which religious beliefs to teach in science classes.”

Evolution Weekend falls before the Feb. 12 birthday of Charles Darwin, the man who first developed the theory of biological evolution by natural selection that became the foundation for modern biology.

The Clergy Letter Project aims to demonstrate that religion and science can be compatible and to elevate the quality of the debate of the issue.

“Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret Holy Scripture,” the clergy letter says. “While virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and practice, the overwhelming majority do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook. Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible–the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark–convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation. Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.”

“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,” it 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. To reject this truth or to treat it as ‘one theory among others’ is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris.”

The letter urges members of 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, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth,” it says.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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