Its Evolution Weekend -- the eighth annual discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science held in hundreds of churches and other houses of worship around the country and the world. Organizers say "that those claiming that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy."
The Religious Right has succeeded in dominating public discourse on the intersection of science and religion for a long time now. Among many other things, seesaw battles have been waged in many states over the teaching of creationism or intelligent design; and faith based "abstinence" programs as against thoughtful, comprehensive sexuality education.
But beyond the courtroom and legislative theatrics, and conflict-driven media coverage, mainstream science and religion have been getting organized. Those who posit that religion and science are inherently in conflict are two sides of the same counter productive framing of the argument. Most Americans understand, believe and accept that faith and science are not necessarily in conflict. Those who support religious pluralism and sound science and science education are natural allies against the religious supremacism, Christian nationalism and crackpot science of the Religious Right.
In addition to celebrating the remarkable efforts of Evolution Weekend, it is worth recalling two thoughtful approaches to the compatibility of religion and science were coincidentally published in 2008. One was a book by the National Academy of Sciences, and the other was a groundbreaking theological statement by the mainline Protestant denomination, the United Church of Christ, that sought to end the "feud" between science and religion. The UCC backed it up at the time with an ad campaign targeted to science blogs.
United Church of Christ (which has more than a million members) has devoted a section of its national web site titled: Not Mutually Exclusive, that includes many resources. (It is also important to note that the UCC is not the only Christian church with serious, non fundamentalist approaches to religion and science.)
The UCC reported:
With hopes of mending a millenniums-old feud between religion and science, the UCC has launched a new web-based advertising campaign geared toward the scientific and technological communities.
"Our hope is to begin to move the church to the place where its public image, public witness and public identity is one of a community of faith that is eager to engage science and to welcome and honor scientists," said the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president.
The advertising effort is being propelled by the release of a meaty Pastoral Letter on Science and Technology -- authored by Thomas and a nine-member working group of scientists and theologians -- that calls the church to "open ourselves and our theology to the momentous conceptual changes of our times."
"Many today are hungering for an authentic spirituality that is intellectually honest and at home in a scientific era," the pastoral letter states. "They are searching for a new kind of wisdom to live by, one that is scientifically sophisticated, technologically advanced, morally just, ecologically sustainable, and spiritually alive."
The 2,400-word pastoral letter, titled "A New Voice Arising," is being distributed in February to each of the UCC's 5,700 local churches. Accompanying materials suggest how churches can host opportunities for further study and science-related group sharing. The UCC's blog will devote the first week of February to posts and discussions about religion, science and technology.
The New York Times reported on Thomas' pastoral letter:
In an interview, he said he wanted to encourage engagement between science and religion "in ways that can enrich each other and challenge each other, particularly at a time when the prevailing public impression is that faith is an enemy of science or vice versa." He said he was referring to recent books attacking religion but also "the creationist approach, the continuing caricature of the opposition of evolution and religion."
The National Academy of Sciences book was discussed in a nationally syndicated Religion News Service story at the time:
A top panel of U.S. scientists has published a new book asserting that belief in the theory of evolution and religious faith "can be fully compatible," and that creationism has no place in science classes.These are, of course, bright spots in what has been, and in many ways continues to be, a dark era. Natural, common sense realignments in politics and religion are overdue and deeply necessary to address the significant advancements of the Religious Right in all areas of life for the past several decades.
The 88-page "Science, Evolution, and Creationism," produced by the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine, is an updated version of two previous books supporting evolution scholarship.
The 2008 version is different, according to the 15-person committee that designed it, because it is aimed at clergy and school board members and discusses the role of faith in human knowledge.
"Science and religion address separate aspects of human experience," the book says. "Many scientists have written eloquently about how their scientific studies of biological evolution have enhanced rather than lessened their religious faith. And many religious people and denominations accept scientific evidence for evolution."