Religion and Science: Strange Bedfellows? Not if You Want to Combat Hate, Care for the Environment and Teach Evolution!

Michael Zimmerman
Feb 2, 2019 · 4 min read
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Religion and science, especially the science of evolution, are often viewed as being at odds with one another. And on those occasions when they come together, they’re assumed to be particularly odd bedfellows.

The reality, however, is very different.

Consider, first, one simple fact. More than 16,300 religious leaders representing a wide swath of religions and denominations, from Lutherans and Presbyterians to Methodists and Baptists, from Jewish rabbis to Buddhist clergy members, and from Roman Catholics to Unitarian Universalists, have come together to assert that evolutionary theory is a core component of human knowledge, that it must be taught in our science classrooms and laboratories, and, perhaps most importantly, that it in no way conflicts with their deeply held religious convictions.

That’s right, thousands upon thousands of ordained clergy members are promoting the teaching of evolution. They’re doing this because they understand how critical it is, especially in this disinformation age when facts are said to be less important than opinion and when expertise is disparaged, to ensure that students are exposed to the best scientific knowledge available. While they understand that science isn’t the only way to understand the human condition, that the arts, humanities and social sciences also offer valuable insights, they recognize the power of science to transform our lives.

These clergy members, of course, also recognize the power of religion. But that power comes not from offering explanations for the complexity of the natural world, but from the insight it provides into the inner lives of those who believe. These clergy members recognize that both are essential facets of our humanity and that they can coexist without competing. Perhaps Tenzin Gyatso, The Dalai Lama, put it best when he astutely noted that If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims or adopt them as metaphor.”

Now consider a second fact. These clergy members have come to the realization that their religious beliefs and evolution are not merely compatible, more often than not they lead to the same conclusions. A couple of examples will demonstrate this powerful point.

· Most religions consider all humans to be closely related, children (either metaphorically or actually) of God. Evolution teaches us that human races are a fiction based on a very small set of observable characters; in fact, in many cases there are greater genetic differences within a “race” than there are among human “races.” Both religion and science, therefore teach us about the inherent illogic of racism.

· Religion teaches us about the value of children and the damage we can do to them if we don’t treat them appropriately. Similarly, evolution and the related science of psychology teach us about the fragility of the childhood psyche, how life-long problems arise when children are removed from their parents and kept from meaningful human contact. Both religion and science, therefore, teach us about the evils associated with separating immigrant children from their parents.

· Religion teaches us to care for the natural world while evolution teaches us about the myriad interconnections that are necessary for ecosystems to remain stable. Both religion and science, therefore, teach us to respect the environment and to take steps to combat climate change.

These clergy members have come together to form The Clergy Letter Project, an organization created to improve the quality of dialogue about the relationship between religion and science. Collectively, they have also taken public positions on pressing issues where religion and science converge. The Clergy Letter Project has spoken out against racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, white supremacy and separating immigrant children from their parents as well as in favor of taking aggressive action to combat climate change.

Additionally, every year for the past 12 years, members of The Clergy Letter Project have commemorated the anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin (12 February 1809) by celebrating Evolution Weekend. Since its founding in 2006, more than one million people in congregations all around the globe have participated in Evolution Weekend by listening to sermons, participating in discussions, hosting guest speakers and creating other exciting activities designed to promote a more robust understanding of the relationship between religion and science.

Evolution Weekend 2019 is scheduled for 8–10 February and the theme selected for this year’s activities is “The Confluence of Religion and Science.” Take a look at the Evolution Weekend website to find one of the hundreds of participating congregations close to you. Visit a congregation and join this growing movement taking active steps to demonstrate how religion and science, working together, can help us create a fairer, greener, healthier and more respectful world.

The Clergy Letter Project demonstrates how religion and science can be productive partners actively pursuing a shared set of goals; not particularly odd bedfellows after all.

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