Complimentary Truths: Clergy’s Acceptance of Evolution

http://www.theclergyletterproject.org/

Religion and science have always been treading over each other. From Galileo to Darwin to Dawkins—the two have always been butting heads. Historically speaking, the devoutly religious struggle to accept newfound scientific facts that appear to be contrary to their beliefs. Four hundred years ago, one of the largest controversies was the Heliocentric universe. Now, some religions still struggle to accept the theory of evolution, despite its universal acceptance within the scientific community. To combat this misstep in knowledge, Michael Zimmerman founded the Clergy Letter Project, an organization that works directly with clergy to support the science of evolution.

The Clergy Letter Project was created to synchronize faith and science on the issue of evolution. Zimmerman states, in the background part of his website, 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.”

Most clergy participating in the Project recognize that religion and science teach two different types of truth: science teaches an observable truth that gives insight to the natural world around us, whereas religion, albeit debatably, teaches morality and existential truths. The American Christian Clergy letter states that the purpose of religious truth “is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.”

Catholic Church teaching accepts evolution and, in the past, has never formally been opposed to it—at least not on the Vatican level. Despite this, Catholic laypeople in the past have been divided on the subject. Even in Catholic school, I was taught evolution with a grain of salt by skeptical teachers. To me, however, that’s why the Clergy Letter Project is so important—it solidifies the symbiosis of evolution and religion as well as providing laity a more holistic understanding of religious leaders’ own beliefs.

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18 Responses to Complimentary Truths: Clergy’s Acceptance of Evolution

  1. sm1414 says:

    I think the post by djrosato is very interesting because religion and science are traditionally believed to be enemies of one another, but the Clergy Letters Project creates a harmonious relationship between the two. Like djroasto, my sister attended a Catholic School for her first year of high school and was taught that evolution occurred, but with the divine guidance of God. I would agree with djrosato that the Clergy Letters Project is extremely important for this exact reason. The project seems to reconcile the opposing views of religion and science by saying that religion explores moral truths while science explores fundamental or factual truths about the world and universe in which we live. By making this distinction, I think that religion and science could coexist harmoniously with one another and not constantly be at each other’s throat as they often are now.
    I would also like to make note of the different number of clergy members from each religion that have signed onto the letters on the website. 12,881 Christian Clergy Members have signed an open letter while only 503 Rabbi’s have signed such a letter and even fewer religious leaders have signed other letters. Muslim clerics and leaders of other religions are entirely absent. Why is it that the Christian religion has so many more clerics involved in the project? Was the project aimed at Christian clergy or has it simply not been as widespread in other religious communities? I think the project would be better served by including other religious groups since many people throughout the world practice different religions.

  2. roberly2 says:

    Djrosato has brought up an exceptionally interesting topic, one that often goes ignored in the debate over evolution (not to say that the issue of religion is not an issue where evolution is involved, because it obviously is; I’m merely suggesting most would say we must pick one or the other- God or Science).

    National Geographic has an interesting article on the topic (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/10/1018_041018_science_religion_2.html) which supports the original source’s argument that science and religion can coexist. The article states that, while “science does contradict a literal interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis in the Bible—on the origin of the universe—which says that God created heaven and the Earth and the species on it in six days,” there is nothing to suggest one cannot believe in both God as well as evolutionary theory. In fact, there are prevalent scientists who are openly religious, and much of science was born out of desire to understand the work of God (geology was born in part out of a desire to find evidence of Noah’s flood).

    The key here is that the bible must be interpreted allegorically rather than literally. The issue that the clergy letter project might face is convincing not just fundamentalists (who probably wouldn’t be receptive anyway) but also religious folk and clergymen who feel as though their belief is being swallowed by the propagation of scientific theory. It may not be about who is wrong and who is right, but who can swallow their religious pride and be willing to coexist. I don’t know if everyone is willing to take that step.

    Zimmerman has a hearty project with a loft goal, and there is strength and believability in his sales pitch that made me- a skeptic- more inclined to listen to what he has to say. He is a clergyman, but he doesn’t preach; there is no holier- than- thou attitude, no frivolous language but there is a strong commitment to informing his audience rather than preaching to them. He uses logos and not pathos, facts and not sermons. His background information is precise and concise, and I appreciated that. It made me more inclined to listen to him where typically I would dismiss him as a clergyman trying to get me to adhere.

  3. freddie1994 says:

    I agree with roberly2 she says that “most people would say we must pick one or the other – (God or Science)” and I also agree with everyone who has said that there is room for both. The problem is that there will never, completely be an internationally accepted group that accepts evolution and believes in God. This is because no one grows up with the idea that they are going to accept both. People either grow up not going to church, learn about evolution in school, and accept it, or people grow up going to church and learn about evolution in high school, and either deny it, or accept it and reject the existence of God.

    The other problem is that religious people accept there religious texts as fact and won’t pay attention to scientific fact, and not many scientists would accept God without scientific facts. The argument will just keep growing until there are more people like the Westbro Baptist Church, who deny evolution but give absolutely no reasons why it’s wrong, not even fake religious reasons, as shown in this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3P7JVEa0L4 (the bit about evolution starts at around 3:45).

    I would really enjoy a world where science and religion (especially the extremists on both sides) can just get along, or at least just quit arguing, but everyone is to ground into their beliefs to completely accept both science and religion.

    • darwinslegacy1 says:

      I dislike the message of the Westboro Baptist Church as much as the next guy, I do however completely disagree with your point that there will never be a group that believes in both evolution and god. I would argue that there are already many groups that hold these views. There are many modern churches in the US and worldwide that practice a form of theistic evolution that holds that God creates life through the process of evolution, and natural selection. This belief holds all of the aspects of the theory of evolution true, while at the same time leaving room for God. I would argue this belief is already widespread and continues to spread through institutions such as the Clergy Letter Project, and the idea that both groups are too close minded to change and accept each other is in itself close minded and part of the problem.

    • drc1995 says:

      In response to feeddie1994, I really just disagree fundamentally on almost everything in your past comment.

      The first thing I must disagree with is your assumption that people “have” to believe in either one or the other, specifically God or science. Your statement that there will “never” be a group of people who accept evolution and believe in God is just a little too broad for me to accept. Obviously there can’t be a complete consensus worldwide when the world is full of very religiously diverse people, but even now most Catholics, including those I grew up with, accept both God and believe in evolution (although in a form of evolution guided by God). I have to just say that learning about one theory doesn’t automatically mean that the other is completely wrong and they will automatically reject it. From personal experience, that is just not the case.

      Take a look at this Huffington Post survey (see link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/23/evolution-god_n_3640658.html). It shows that while those who believe solely in evolutionary theory and those who believe in creationism are fairly distinct, there still exists a sizable portion of the survey group (25%) who believe in both at the same time. Furthermore, this completely doesn’t even take into account the people who believe in evolution fully, though not as a God guided, who might still actually believe in God, but weren’t taken into consideration in the survey.

      Secondly, I think it is a wrong assumption on your part that people who are religious automatically take everything in the Bible literally, and that not many scientists have faith at all in God. There is a wide spectrum of believers and they include people who take a literal approach to the Bible and state that the Earth is 6000 years old, was created in 6 days, etc. versus those who accept the Bible as mostly teachings to inspire morality, as the original poster djrosato pointed out and nothing more, as well as all the people in between. I’m not trying to be combative, I just think you are making a few too many generalizations.

  4. secondcitytocapitalcity says:

    I believe that religion and evolution can exist together. In the introduction to “Why Evolution is True” Coyne states that “You can find religion without creationism, but you never find creationism without religion” (xvii). Looking at the website that djrosato posted, The letters in the Clergy Letter Project are directed towards other religious leaders who are speaking against evolution. So even other religious leaders are acknowledging that the creationism is religious in nature.

    This is opposite opposite of what many people have argued in court. They have said that creationism and intelligent design are not religious idea. However when religious members are calling other religious members out for endorsing creationism, it says quite the opposite.

    I also thought it was interesting that all of the letters say that one of the major roles of religion is to search for a higher truth, and these leaders accept evolution as this higher truth.

  5. ojc31084 says:

    I fully agree with previous commenters who state that science and religion should be able to peacefully coexist and that people shouldn’t have to believe between evolution and listening to the many great lessons taught in the Bible. I’m glad that organizations, like the Clergy Letter Project, exist to prove to society that these types of combinations are possible and encouraged. At the same time, thought, the coexistence of science and religion should not be used as an excuse to bring religion into the school district.

    Several school boards in the past have used this reasoning to justify teaching religious concepts like intelligent design or creationism in public high schools along side the theory of evolution. The distinction between religious teachings (like intelligent design and creationism) and scientific fact should be made. Luckily the website addresses this and states that the purpose of religions “is not to convey scientific information”. This idea should be made clearer to the parents and school board members who are trying to bring religion into the classroom.

  6. lnzgirl says:

    I disagree with secondcitytocapitalcity. I don’t think religious organizations deny that creationism and intelligent are religious ideas because religion in its simplest form is believing in a higher power. Rather, I think that religious organizations try to prove in court that these ideas are not based in a particular religion and are therefore not violating “separation of church and state,” which says that the government cannot endorse one religion over another. These people also would further argue that atheism is not a religion, justifying the constitutionality of teaching the theories of creationism and intelligent design.
    It makes me very happy to see religious leaders recognizing the compatibility between religion and evolution. Most people will not denounce science when it comes to medical treatments and new technologies, but evolutionary biologist are viewed by some religious groups as less legitimate than chemists and physicists. There are passages in books of the bible such as Leviticus that society will not condone. No one suggests that we stone people for their crimes other things in the bible are taken at face value. I think religious leaders who are able to see the holes in the literal interpretation of the bible are most likely to accept evolution.

    • greenDC says:

      I agree with Inzgirl. By not being directly tied to a particular religion and having varying views on atheism, the lines are blurred. Therefore, the “separation of church and state” becomes subjective to a group. By starting a movement like the letter project, and encouraging more religious affiliations to join, this organization is absolutely a pathway to establish compatibility and acceptance between religion and science.

      However, Inzgirl also pointed out the fact that when it comes to fields like medicine, science to the majority of the population is hardly questioned. I think this issue can be attributed to the fact that while both evolution and medicine have tangible evidence, the real time success and results of physical science are more accessible.

  7. As a practicing Greek Orthodox Christian, I agree with all of the posters above. Religion and science can absolutely coexist. I disagree with some posts (based deeply on my own interpretation of God and Faith), that all religious people cannot see evolution as fact. As previous posters have mentioned (I especially like roberly2’s post and the National Geographic article) science developed from ways to understand God and His workings. He endowed us with the deep curiosity we all have, so science is completely natural. I subscribe to the belief of Divine Providence, that God works through all of us.
    Yes of course we do things on our own, he gave us free will. However, major discoveries and events that have large and lasting impacts are certainly His working. Instead of seeing science as a way to prove His existence (I believe He would not permit us to get that far, as that would destroy Faith), even Fundmentalists should be able to see evolution as His divine work and lasting power. Plus, how do we know that the seven days He created Earth in are actual 24-hours days.
    Yes, the Bible says Adam and Eve spawned in human form, but is there really much wrong with the Fish-Called-Adam theory? To me, if you study biology, or astronomy deep enough, you’ll have to sit back and wonder how everything happened on its own. It’s very hard to believe, there had to be a guiding hand somewhere. Not only do I believe that science and religion can coexist, I believe, like many have mentioned, that they work in tandem. Seeing the beauty and scale that actually makes up our natural world can help foster and increase faith in God. This Chicago Tribune article about sums it up:

    http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-07-10/news/ct-talk-huppke-column-higgs-boson-20120710_1_higgs-boson-god-particle-higgs-field

  8. mykkros says:

    While I understand the points that djrosato and ojc31084 said, when ojc31084 says, “I believe that religion and evolution can exist together”, I disagree. I personally feel that religion and science cannot coexist, especially if both are used to explain the founding of our universe in their current forms. However, I feel that if the two are used to respectively explain certain aspects of our universe, they can work, but when they begin to try to give explanations for the same thing, conflict is bound to arise. What I mean by this is that science can be used to explain the physical world and religion can be used to accommodate humanity’s spirituality. Using spirituality and religion to explain theories and factual information is bound to cause problems, as it has in today’s world and in the past. On the other hand, religion is best at explaining the complexities of morality and spirituality, something that cannot be “tested”, and thus outside the domain of the sciences. Many famous and influence people have attained to this point of view, notitably people such as Richard Dawkins and Stephen Dawkins.

    However, while I feel that in that specific case it could be possible for both religion and science to coexist, I feel that such a thing is unfortunately impossible. As freddie1994 proved from the Youtube video he posted about the Westboro Church’s radical views; there is unfortunately always going to be a section of the population that will always deny fact and logic because they perceive science as a threat to their beliefs. Even when such a threat is nonexistent, they will continue to brew ignorance to those who they associate themselves with, especially their children. Unfortunately, the children of such people are forced to remain ignorant and such ignorance is incredibly harmful to their futures. Think of all of the possible scientist, engineers, and doctors that driven away from such fields because of the ignorance of the superiors. I’m not saying that all religions are like this and have this sort of effect on people because they do not; I am saying that such things like this happen when religion tries to explain things that science should try to be explaining. This continuously happens in today’s world as we see in today’s politics which is why I feel that science and religion cannot feasible coexist any time soon.

  9. nicolina1215 says:

    In response to sm1414’s question, “Is the project aimed at Christian clergy or has it simply not been as widespread in other religious communities?” I believe the answer is both yes and no. While there are many non-christian religions out there that do not recognize the theory of evolution, there are also still many Christian sects that do not either. Like djrosato, I am Catholic. Personally my Catholic upbringing was always harmonious with science considering my mother worked in a blood lab for 20 years and my father is an engineer. The Clergy Letter Project is a huge step forward for both Catholics and all religious leaders that hope to maintain a longer more realistic relationship with their perishes.
    When writing this post, I googled religions that don’t believe in evolution and came up with many interesting websites and blogs regarding people who had at one point been a Fundamentalist or Apologetic Christian and turned atheist. One example is this interview of a woman named Rachael Silk, who grew up under the extremely strict, sheltered teaching of her Christian Apologist father: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/07/15/the-atheist-daughter-of-a-notable-christian-apologist-shares-her-story/. This interview explains how people go from one extreme to the next because of a simple question that shattered every belief she was brought up on. She explains that the environment one was brought up in completely changes how people view and understand the world around them: “If every friend, authority figure, and informational source in your life constantly repeat the same ideas, it is difficult not to believe they’re onto something. My world was built of “reasonable” Christians — the ones who thought, who questioned, who knew that what they believed was true. In the face of this strength, my own doubts seemed petty.” This is the reason I find the Clergy Letter Project so extremely important. If religions can get on board with the idea of putting aside some of their original religious beliefs and focus on the ones that are still important and still relevant, then religious leaders will not risk losing people who have earth-shattering scientific realizations that their religion taught them were unrealistic. Having a moderate religion that supports scientific facts makes the transition and ability to hold onto the more important moral values of that religion for your entire life much easier.

  10. foldervral says:

    Religion v Science is an age old battle that most believe that will go on forever. In the current technological age most religions have come to grudgingly accept most of what science has proven true even when it contradicted the religions theology. When freddie1994 says that people won’t pay attention to scientific fact due to being blinded by religion it is most the most radical of religions or fanatical followers not really associated with the church. The current Pope seems to support or at least not oppose many teachings seemingly against timeless religious teachings. The Clergy Letter Project is yet another step in modernizing some of the archaic religious practices. I agree with mykkros when he says that religion and science can not exist together. Religion now is adapting because it has no other choice. In the past religion has destroyed scientists. Now science has the upper hand and with a more enlightened age religion is not needed as much to control the population as it was in the past. I am not saying that religion is false, but that it has less influence now than it has in the past. The Clergy Letter Project is a good way for religion to not isolate more of its followers and to maintain relevancy in today’s world.

  11. theotherhemingway says:

    In response to djrosato and numerous other comments, I believe that from a historical standpoint, religion and science have no need to coexist. This is based on two components: the first being that there is a trend of religious faith being chipped away at by science. The second being that if science can explain–in an empirical manner–the answers to both how and why the universe exists, then I argue that there is no need for faith in a creator.

    While religion offers a moral and existential backbone to the lives of believing laity, it’s foundation is a belief in a supreme being in some capacity. Thousands of years of scientific progression have slowly expanded out knowledge of the world at the expense of our belief. At first we believed the Earth was the center of the universe. Now we know the Earth orbits a star. Even after that, we still believed the universe was a small enclosed place, and that humans in their current form were a production of a supreme being. Now we know that the universe is too large for me to possibly hope to describe in this post and that humans have evolved to their current form over millions of years from a common ancestor with the modern chimpanzee. What I see here is an inverse trend, we give up beliefs previously engrained in us by religion in order to facilitate new knowledge taking their place. From that standpoint, and assuming these trends continue (as long as science continues to learn more about the natural universe), I would as a good statistician expect faith to further decrease in the developed world. Therefore why should they coalesce?

    Only recently on this historical trend have we begun to answer to critical origin questions: the origin of modern humans and the origin of the universe. As Jeffrey Moran notes in The Scopes Trial: A Brief History with Documents, theologians had already begun adapting theology for evolutionary theory in the early 20th century. Expanding Moran’s findings, I notice that theologians today are being forced to accelerate adaptations like this and many others each year scientific discovery progresses. This acceleration must reach a maximum, and so must science, and that point occurs at the beginning of the universe. Ultimately, when science can define the origin of the universe just as it defines the origin of man, theology’s explanation for the universe through a supreme being will no longer be necessary.

    Indeed in this comment I may come off like Richard Dawkins or Bill Maher–an anti-religion individual. However I have no qualm with religion, it provided the backbone of government in the early modern era, it provides a moral fiber for much of the population of the current world, however it simply declines with the increase of scientific knowledge. Therefore, there is no need to make some “peace” between religion and science, as time already pushes them in different directions.

  12. johnd0pe says:

    Expanding upon what sm1414 said, I’m curious as to how different religious groups approach the issue of evolution. I wonder what, if anything, there is about each religion which influences how well its ideologies mesh with scientific theories. According to this website, http://www.pewforum.org/2009/02/04/religious-differences-on-the-question-of-evolution/ Jewish Americans exhibit a higher acceptance of evolution than Christians, and Christians higher than Muslims. This doesn’t align with what is shown by the numbers of each represented by the Clergy Letter Project. This most likely indicates that the Project has been geared to a predominantly Christian demographic, thus not offering a proper representation of each group’s actual support of evolution. One correlation that is apparent in these trends is that older religions generally have higher rates of acceptance of evolution. This may indicate that over the course of a religion’s history, it naturally adapts to accommodate scientific theories which could be viewed as conflicting with its own teachings. Perhaps all religions will eventually, gradually reach acceptance of evolution in the future.

    Throughout the history of Christianity, time and time again, biblical interpretation has been forced to become less literal as scientific developments have disproved the word offered by the scripture. The only way religion and science can fully coexist is if religious groups relinquish the notion that the bible is a historically accurate and literal account of the world. If followers of Christianity, Judaism and Islam all retain their belief in the ethical and personal teachings of their scriptures but recognized the stories they contain to be allegorical stories not necessarily based on actual historical events. Perhaps interpreting the religious account of the origins of man in this manner will result in a religious body who is more receptive to mutual acceptance of science and religion.

  13. Sl1017 says:

    I strongly disagree with mykkros’ comment – “religion and science cannot coexist, especially if both are used to explain the founding of our universe in their current forms.” Many explanations overlap and still work reasonably well together. In personal experience I grew up attending a serious christian church while also being in the public school system. I learned from church that human kind was created in the direct image by God while my public school education opposed that entirely teaching the science of evolution. I have, like many many others created a joint creation-evolution reason for human kind. SImilar to this article in the national geographic that is just another example of the two “theories” being able to exist together. http://www.news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/10/1018_041018_science_religion.html
    Science and religion can exist together but only on a more personal level. I believe that there is no reason you cant pick and choose what scientific points are fact and what creationist/spiritual facts are truth or maybe that one influenced the other.

  14. phillykid888 says:

    I agree with mykkros’s assertion that religion and science cannot always coexist. I would like to qualify this argument, though; science and religious fundamentalism cannot coexist. When one believes that the Bible is literally true, it is logically impossible to believe in much of modern science. One cannot believe that the Earth is 6000 years old and also believe in modern scientific methods like radiocarbon dating. Mykkros mentions the Westboro Baptist Church; they are a radical example of religion and can’t be seen as representative of all–or even most–religious people. People who hold religious beliefs like their’s cannot believe in modern science, but your average person of faith can. Many people don’t believe the Bible to be literally true; it is definitely possible to see the creation story as a metaphor and believe in modern scientific methods. As long as most religious people don’t take the Bible literally, religion and science will be able to at least tolerate each other. That being said, the Clergy Letter Project is being too optimistic; it isn’t paying attention to the significant discrepancies between religious doctrine and scientific findings. Although naive, it is a good effort and a step in the right direction.

  15. shoutoutjfk says:

    During this deeply religious time for Hindus, this is a perfect article for me to provide a Hindu perspective in terms of evolution and science in general. Hinduism is very different from most religions in that ideas are not pressed onto individuals. Or at least, this is my interpretation of the religion. And this is what I believe to be the essence of religion. As frombostontodc stated, religion is interpretive. Anyone can interpret it to mean anything they want, and that is what makes it so powerful. The same way it is capable of providing people with a sense of purpose, a sense of community, and a sense of humility, it also can cloud judgement. Faith has at times made people to forget the important things and suppress learning and growth, by any means necessary. Primarily, this is because religions are often anachronistic meaning that they don’t apply to any time other than the time period they originated from. On a very personal level, I opine that Hinduism is amazing because of its relative lack of anachronisms. Any vestiges can be accredited to the culture as the strictly religious texts address moral concerns directly. Though this is not me preaching the religion. I feel that every religion, stripped of vestiges no longer applicable to society, is in essence good. This is exactly what the clergy is trying to convey as well. We must apply the attributes of natural selection to ourselves and weed out worthless vestiges of religion to reveal the inner teachings. From this view of religion, even atheism can constitute as one because atheism merely relies on scientific observation and the innate goodness of man for these teachings of morality. And ultimately, don’t we all just want to be good people?

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