The Clergy Letter Project

In 2004 nearly 200 clergy signed a letter in support of teaching evolution in schools when the Grantsburg, WI school district passed several anti-evolution laws. After such a large number of clergy showed interest in promoting the teaching of evolution Michael Zimmerman decided to create a nationwide advocacy website called the Clergy Letter Project.

Zimmerman created the site to encourage clergy to sign their names to a statement supporting the collaboration between science and religion. The idea brought about a community of religious figures who supported scientific teachings but did not have any support in their own communities. Not long after it’s inception the Clergy Letter Project announced an annual “Evolution Weekend” for like-minded members to gather in groups across the world and discuss the relationship between science and religion. The events are primarily for “Religious people from many diverse faith traditions and locations around the world [who] understand that evolution is quite simply sound science; and for them, it does not in any way threaten, demean, or diminish their faith in God.”

In fact, the diversity is a big influence for the Project. The Project currently has several religious denominations with their own letters including Christian, Jewish, Unitarian Universalist, and Buddhist letters. In total the letters have over 13,000 signatures from clergy members across the world. Here is an except from the Christian Clergy Letter:

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.

The site provides clergy with several resources including a database of scientists to answer any questions they may have about evolution and sermons about the topic for the clergy  members to use for their own congregations. Recently the United Methodist Church officially endorsed the Project which has expanded to advocating for the educational rights of Texas students. A new site was launched by the Clergy Letter Project in corroboration with the Center for Inquiry Austin called “Teach Them Science” in an effort to ensure Texas students are being taught science in an appropriate way.

The Project faced criticism from Ken Ham of the Answers in Genesis organization as well as the Discovery Institute, a creationist organization, who created their own anti-evolution petition entitled A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism. Communications director Rob Crowther  of the Discovery Institute stated in an article for Inside Higher Ed that intelligent design supporters see the issue as “purely a scientific debate” so the views of clergy members “don’t make any difference,” because “We don’t think there is anything religious at all to the theory of intelligent design.” Zimmerman responded by saying that these types of ideas are the problem by turning the science of the natural world into the science of the super natural.

Considering that Crowther believes intelligent design is a purely scientific topic, does that help of hinder his point and how? What can the Clergy Letter Project do to help get their message out more effectively? How does the Project affect the average church members? Should the Project be open to including the average church member?

http://www.theclergyletterproject.org

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2006/02/21/clergy

http://www.dissentfromdarwin.org

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21 Responses to The Clergy Letter Project

  1. gatorade15 says:

    Great post anonymousgwustudent! This really ties together an idea that we have been touching on in the blogs all semester long, the idea that religious bodies are slowly coming to terms with scientific theories. This Clergy Letter Project serves as a huge step towards bridging the gap between science and religion by stating and showing how the two can in fact coexist and actually gain from one another. My personal belief is that there must have been some kind of spark to fuel the Big Bang and the following natural phenomena that lead all the way to our existence today on this planet. One could make an argument that this spark was created by a supernatural being because as of now, we really have no other evidence as to how that spark came to be.

    To address some of your questions, I really don’t see how Crowther supports his claim that intelligent design is a scientific manner. Google defines science as, “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment”. To me at least, intelligent design doesn’t exactly utilize observation and experiment of the natural world around them, but rather study and strict devotion to the Bible and its contents. Does anybody else think otherwise?

    I do think that the Project should be open to and accepted by other Church members. As I said before, this can be a great way to increase scientific understanding in the religious community and to forge a stronger relationship between religion and science. What do you guys think? Will this project be beneficial or harmful?

    • Very interesting. How do you think the Project could gain more attention?

      • gatorade15 says:

        I think that a simple and effective way for the project is through social media attention. If enough people spread awareness for the project then larger media sources will run stories on the project. This can in turn lead to more and better discussion regarding the project and what it’s all about.

    • Gatorade15, I agree that Crowther doesn’t support his claim on intelligent design. I think that this fact could potentially be used as a platform for the Clergy Letter Project to further articulate the peaceful line between the science of evolution and faith in God. As far as acceptance of the Project by Church members, I think that the use of the available sermons via the Proeject’s website mentioned in the initial blog post will become critical to getting congregations onboard and to spreading the project to other religious branches.

  2. graduallychanging says:

    moneytrees3001, by calling intelligent design a non-religious topic, Crowther is only hurting his own argument because the scientifically-accepted theory, evolution, does not rely on any external intervention. It is important to note that Crowther did not explicitly state that intelligent design was a scientific proposition; he only stated that it was not a religious matter. Simply because the topic is allegedly not religious, does not automatically make it a scientific topic. There are certainly other categories of knowledge, such as philosophical, where intelligent design could fit, without being scientific.
    In terms of the Clergy Letter Project, I do not think that it should get involved with church members. It is probably easier for religious people with traditional religious beliefs to learn about evolution from a religious official that they trust. The word of mouth after the sermon

    Moreover, I would like to note that the questions you included reflect the ideas you presented in your blog post and were very helpful in terms of promoting discussion.

    • That is a very good point about Crowther’s interpretation. My own opinions might have shaped the way I asked the question. I should not have made the assumption that he believes intelligent design is a scientific topic. In regards to your second point, I agree that limiting participation to religious officials would probably be best for the Project.

  3. gwuw2014 says:

    I think this is a fantastic project! Even the Pope himself is making significant strides toward the religious acceptance of evolution (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/pope-would-you-accept-evolution-and-big-bang-180953166/?no-ist). While 13000 signatures is only a small portion of clergymen worldwide, it’s a promising start!

    • greyelephant1 says:

      Thank you gwu2014 for putting that article up. I thought it was really interesting how he (the Pope) said, “Darwin’s theory provides for a stand alone system. Evolution is fully autonomous process that does not require any guiding “rationality” (Benedict’s term) to function. It’s an agonizingly slow, brutish, and insanely methodical process, but it works.””
      I think that this, as others have said, is a great step in the right direction. Believing in evolution is something that can be done to a wide variety of extents.

  4. thinkbrush says:

    I’m so happy to hear about this project. Unfortunately, I think that people truly underestimate how much impact conversations like this have on the culture surrounding religion and science. I don’t think that it will be the Pope or the US Supreme Court that will ultimately affect education policy or personal opinions in the US. Frankly, policy shifts at the flick of a switch would likely draw more outrage than praise regardless of the issue. Rather, gradual change in the public opinion will ultimately determine how evolution is regarded in the US and this project is an excellent way of showing goodwill on behalf of a group of influential citizens. In my opinion, most people prefer n organic shift on policy rather than artificial modifications through the courtroom or decree. Thank you for posting this article, AnonymousGWUStudent! Great job.

    • Thank you thinkbrush. That slow change of opinion is similar to the way Gay Rights is taking hold in the United States and it seems to be working. Very insightful.

    • Thinkbrush, I agree with what you are saying about public opinion change as a result of the actual public, rather than as a result of policy changes. This is why I think that after Church officials are onboard with the Clergy Letter Project, the way that they convey the Project’s goals and ideology clearly and respectfully.

      • greyelephant1 says:

        Thinkbrush, that is an interesting point you bring up. I do agree with you and anonymousgwustudent in that over time, bigger topics like these can become more globally or nationally accepted. I do though believe that having a figure or group that is surveyed by the public helps. So having the Pope make this push may not change the world the way we wish his words could, but he is implanting this idea into people’s minds.

  5. I really liked your comment gatorade15. I do have to say that the initiative is a positive move not only for the scientific community but for religious institutions themselves. I personally believe that if at this point in time, with the abundant amount of information discovered to support the theory of evolution, if a religious institution still interprets the Bible literally, they will not last for long. We are at a point in history where most of the current youth tend to not be as religious as past generations and tend to fall for popular culture, which at this point states that the Bible should not be taken literally but rather metaphorically. There will always be people like Ken Ham who have strong beliefs for an idea but are unable to get support and that is why they try to create scandals. I recently had a conversation with a priest and somehow we started conversing about evolution. He asked me, “if humans evolved from apes, then why aren’t apes still evolving into humans?” I am not a primatologist or know-every-single thing there is to know about evolution, thus I was unable to answer that question, making the priest feel as if he was correct. My point being, that opposition to evolution will exterminate in the near future because, sadly, generations are becoming less religious over time.

    I believe the Clergy Letter Project can effectively get their message across if they continue to reach out to people through social media and continue to state their support for the theory of evolution. I would assume that the average church member is in support or the projects and yes, church members should be included as part of this project not only the priest or clergy. The bigger the support for the project, the more attention it will receive.

    • Thanks for the input californiarepublic79. Thinkbrush mentioned above that it takes time for social movements to take hold. Do you think that if every church member were allowed to participate it might fragment the message?

  6. macnplease says:

    It truly blows my mind that people refusing to accept a scientific theory because of their religious faith would then reject the opinion of their religion’s spiritual leaders, calling them “irrelevant”. That is simply hypocritical to the core. It only proves that creationists simply cannot be reasoned with, no matter how many sources are stacked against their beliefs.

    On the other hand, I’m shocked I have never heard of this religious movement of clergy in support of Darwinism before. It is so refreshing to see such organized movement in the religious community in favor of the science, and makes progress in proving that science and religious belief can coexist. Thanks for the fascinating article, anonymousgwustudent!

    • pigfish1116 says:

      Wow, what an extremely general statement about creationists! Of course you know that not only creationists are unreasonable, the people who signed the Clergy Project are a prime example. Organizations, companies, clans, teams, religious denominations all have leaders, whether multiple or one, and there are numerous cases where there is derision within these groups. It just means that they don’t all agree on every single point of an issue.

  7. Annoymousgwstudent, Great post! The two posts for this weeks tie together very well! Personally, I believe that the Clergy Letter project is a very good start for the religious community and scientific community to begin collaborating rather than debating. However, I also believe that religion is more going to have to simply follow science rather than try and find compromises and common grounds. The problem with viewing intelligent design as a scientific issue is that they are trying to give religious belief a scientific validity and that is why the debate exists. For me, religion is religion and has no place debating science. This is why the conflict between religion and science exists because people try to view them as opposing topics. People need to be able to have a religious belief as well as a scientific one and as long as religion is presented as being scientific viable, this conflict will persist

  8. collegeblogger19 says:

    I really enjoyed reading about this Clergy Letter Project! I think the project is a great start in a change in public opinion, as thinkbrush began to discuss. Religious people would be more likely to accept evolution if their leaders made it known that evolution and religion could coexist–which is exactly what this Clergy Letter Project is doing. It is similar to the Catholic church when the Pope announced that evolution could be accepted. It is easier to endorse an idea if your leaders advocate for it first. In response to your question, I think it would be a good idea to involve regular religious members to be able to sign the letter. It would make this project more well-known and popular. Simply discussing this matter would help change public opinion to be in favor of evolution.

  9. glowcloud says:

    Honestly while I appreciate the sentiment of the project, I really don’t think it’s going to make much of a difference in terms of changing any minds about the compatibility of science and religion. At this point, if you are so devout that you can’t make any sort of acquiescence in the direction of science, a project like this will not do anything to sway you; nothing will. I think that’s my biggest issue with a lot of these projects and articles: the people who need convincing are not going to be affected by this at all. These projects rely on a rationality to get their point across, and someone who is that deeply engrained in their religion that they have ignored centuries of scientific progress is most likely not all that rational. The rest of us are aware that compromises can be made in order to accommodate science into our belief system. For that reason I find the Clergy Letters a bit pointless.

    • pigfish1116 says:

      Think of it like this, there are 100 people, 30 are stubbornly pious with fundamentalist beliefs, 20 are non-religious and believe in evolution and 50 are religious but believe n evolution because of the Clergy Letters. Is it pointless then? I think that if it is reaching the young religious audience then that’s a more reasonable target than the “irrational”, which consists a lot of an older audience (that will die:/).

  10. Thanks for all of the comments guys!

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