The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

The Clergy Letter Project & Evolution Weekend 2010

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 30, 2010

If you’ve followed the battle against creationism over the years, then you’ve no doubt heard the oft-repeated claim by fundamentalist creationists that one cannot accept the science of evolution while also holding religious beliefs.  This is a variation on the bogus “evolution is atheistic” claim made by creationists, and it is clearly a false dichotomy, as I know many people who are both religious AND accept evolutionary science.  And, despite my own atheism, I more than welcome any allies – religious or not – who are willing to fight the battle against anti-science fundamentalism.

This mean-spirited tactic is clearly meant as a method to intimidate & scare religious people into choosing between their beliefs and modern science, while at the same time painting those who support evolutionary science and atheists as somehow “evil”.  Well, the creationists are just plain wrong

In an effort to put a more public face on battling against this misconception pushed by creationists, there is a group called the Clergy Letter Project made up of over 12,500 Christian clergy, 450 Jewish rabbis, and 200 Unitarian clergy who have signed the following statement(s)…

The Clergy Letter – from American Christian clergy – An Open Letter Concerning Religion and Science

Clic aquí para leer la carta en español
Cliquer ici pour la version francaise
Clique aqui para ler a carta em português

Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret Holy Scripture. 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. 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. 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.

Read the Rabbi Letter here

Read the UU Clergy Letter here

In addition to the letter writing campaign, the Clergy Letter Project holds public outreach events every year to celebrate the birthday of Charles Darwin while promoting good science education.  They call this event Evolution Weekend, and I’m happy to say that this year there are almost 800 Evolution Weekend events planned around the world, more than ever before!

If you are a supporter of science, whether you’re a religious believer or non-believer, a scientist, clergy, or just a concerned citizen, I encourage you to check out the Clergy Letter Project and Evolution Weekend websites and pass them along to others.  Together, we can stand up to the forces of anti-science :)

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3 Responses to “The Clergy Letter Project & Evolution Weekend 2010”

  1. doctor(logic) said

    the oft-repeated claim by fundamentalist creationists that one cannot accept the science of evolution while also holding religious beliefs.

    Actually, while the Clergy Letter might be convincing to some people, the fundamentalists have a point. One cannot rationally accept the evidence for evolution and still conclude there was a God who intended our existence. There could be such a God, but the odds are against it, so it would be irrational to believe in a designer God unless one possessed other extraordinary evidence for that God.

    Here’s how the argument works. Pure Darwinian evolution places a lot of restrictions on the designer. To begin with, evolution requires descent, i.e., that species have offspring. This, in turn, requires that species reproduce themselves by way of reproductive organs.

    Evolution requires common composition, i.e., that all animals are made of the same kind of stuff. We don’t see plastic rabbits or titanium deer.

    Evolution requires common mechanisms. Systems like photosynthesis and the ATP cycle are ancient. All life on Earth works on basically the same old chemical technology. There are no nuclear sharks or electric birds.

    Also, pure evolution respects only one utility: survival.

    So, a designer who has a design goal has lots of options at every step of a system’s development. There’s no need for breeding. None of our cars were born from the reproductive organs of other cars. We use manufacturing. We can control population by making only as many products as we desire, instead of having our new products kill the old ones.

    Having made a wooden pen, it is trivial for a designer to create a pen out of metal or plastic. Even when we design using evolutionary algorithms (inside computer models), we don’t make the evolved products feed themselves or kill each other. We aren’t trying to create airplanes that kill other airplanes.

    Yet, when we look at the world we see that it is evolved and respects only survival.

    If there is a designer, it would have to be the kind of designer whose design methods look exactly like evolution at every step of the process, and whose design goals look exactly like survival of the fittest at every step of the process.

    The number of design paths a designer could take is vastly larger than the number of design paths available to unguided evolution. Consequently the odds that we were designed by an intelligence is extremely small. Indeed, evolution all but rules out the existence of a designer.

    As I said at the start, one cannot rationally accept the evidence for evolution and still conclude there was a God who intended our existence. Of course, one cannot rationally deny the evidence for evolution, either.

  2. Sirius said

    While I obviously don’t agree with the good Doctor on the legitimacy of microbes-to-man evolution [natural selection has nothing to dowith common decent], I thank him for noting that the dichotomy between Bible-affirming Christianity and evolution is valid. Evos find it useful to recruit Christians as evolution advocates, but the whole thing is an attempt to get Christendom to quietly surrender the authority of God’s Word to the current views of fallible men who don’t know everything, weren’t there and follow a theory that hopes to explain the whole bit without Him – so long as said views are made in the name of science.

    Full disclosure. This is me:
    Ministry Urges Churches to Celebrate Creation Sunday, Not Evolution Sunday

    Regards,
    Rev Tony Breeden
    CreationLetter.com

  3. craig said

    You are offering another false dichotomy by asserting that anti-evolution and anti-science are equivalent. It seems you welcome skepticism only when it is not skeptical of your own viewpoint.

    I agree that a person does not need to be an atheist to believe in evolution. However, an atheist has no choice but to defend evolution. Any other stance threatens the basis of his philosophy. This, I think, is the primary reason that the proponents of evolution refuse to look at its weaknesses with any real skepticism. If evolution is in doubt, atheism “doesn’t have a prayer.” :)

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