The kooks and zealots in the Christian community make such an obnoxious noise and hog so much of the attention that it’s always nice to be able to single out people of that most irritating of religions who are doing genuinely good, positive work. As I have learned from writing about religious issues for this den of filth (and American Chronicle) the last few years, the Christian demographic in America is not all John Hagees and James Dobsons. There are quite a few Christians, from many different denominations, even a few evangelicals, whose faith is tempered by a sane grasp of reality.
On the side of these people is Michael Zimmerman, the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. Zimmerman is the founder of the Clergy Letter Project, which encourages Christian ministers from all corners of the faith to endorse a letter in support of teaching evolutionary biology in school. He started the project in 2004, when the school board of Grantsburg, Wisconsin instituted policies hostile to evolution, and friendly to creationism.
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.
As of yesterday, the letter has collected 11,196 signatures — from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and from 50 American clergymen living outside the U.S.
For the last three years, the Clergy Letter Project has also sponsored annual Evolution Sundays, when participating congregations from churches all over the world gather to learn about the truth of evolution and to refute the lie that acceptance of scientific truth is incompatible with belief in God. This year, Evolution Weekend was February 8-10; 814 churches from all 50 states and nine countries took part. Sadly, only one church in my own Washington County, Maryland, participated — Rev. Michael Hydes’s New Light Metropolitan Community Church in Hagerstown, who deserve a standing ovation — but one is sure as hell better than none.
The success of projects like the Clergy Letter and events like Evolution Sunday serve to further demonstrate how ludicrous the claims of creationists are. From misguided legitimate scientists like Kurt Wise, from dishonest carnies like Ken Ham and Jonathan Wells, from convicted felons like Kent Hovind and out-of-their-depth screeching imbeciles like Ann Coulter, Christians are told over and over again that if they accept the empirically compiled, never disproven scientific fact of evolution, they are rejecting God and the Bible. This is total bullshit that must be challenged whenever it’s asserted, not just by Christians defending the intellectual integrity of their faith, but by people like me who think that the Bible, taken literally, is one of the most appalling and morally repugnant books ever written.
As the front page of the anti-creationist website No Answers in Genesis declares, the alternative to evolution is not creationism — it is ignorance. If people like Michael Zimmerman and the thousands of clergy who signed the letter are able to conquer that ignorance, and take back the public face of their faith from the Ken Hams and Kent Hovinds, as well as the Hagees and the Dobsons, it will make a better world for us all.