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?