Thousands of Clergy Recognize the Value of Science
By: Michael Zimmerman, Founder and Executive director of The Clergy Letter Project
When you mention the terms religion and science to many people, the first thing that springs to their minds is antagonism. The two are often seen as mortal enemies, deeply engaged in a cultural battle over the best way to understand the world in which we live.
How could it be otherwise when extreme positions pitting religion against science seem commonplace? In 2012, then Representative Paul Broun (R-GA) was caught on tape in 2012 saying, “God’s word is true. I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the big bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell.”
More recently, Ken Ham, the founder of the twin theme parks Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, claimed that “Christians who support evolution are following a ‘religion of death.’”
The reality, however, is very different. Yes, there are many whose religious beliefs are so narrow that they are, in fact, irreconcilably in conflict with science. They believe that the Earth is only about 6,000 years old and that evolution is a myth. But these individuals are rarer than you might believe. The MIT survey on science, religion and origins, which analyzed the beliefs of 101 US faith communities, for example, concluded that “only 11% belong to religions openly rejecting evolution.”
Indeed, there are thousands of clergy members who celebrate the compatibility of religion and science. They’ve staked out this position clearly and articulately and they’ve done so, first and foremost, on the hot button issue of evolution. These clergy members, members of The Clergy Letter Project, are not shy about saying that evolution is first rate science and that it does not conflict with their religious faith.
Science as Core Human Knowledge
Over 14,300 Christian Clergy members have signed the Christian Clergy Letter which asks that evolution rather than any form of creationism be taught in public school science classrooms and laboratories. The Letter states that religion’s “purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.” The Letter concludes by asking elected officials “to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.”
Although The Clergy Letter Project began with a focus on evolution, members quickly recognized that it was important to support science more broadly. The Buddhist Clergy Letter which opens with a quote from the Dalai Lama explaining the healthy relationship that can exist between science and religion makes this point very clearly: “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.”
This broad acceptance of science in general and evolution in particular has led many clergy members to other important conclusions. For example, they recognize that both evolutionary biology and their religious beliefs teach that all human beings are closely related and the concept of race in our species is a social rather than a biological construct. Similarly, on both scientific and religious grounds, they recognize the interconnectedness of all life forms and thus the need to take serious steps to protect the environment.
Science is for Everyone
The thousands of clergy who comprise The Clergy Letter Project are incredibly diverse. They span the political spectrum, represent all geographic regions, belong to a wide array of religions, are members of many ethnic groups, and are both young and old. In short, they are as diverse as are the people of the world. What they share with one another is a deep respect for and appreciation of the value of science while, at the same time, recognizing that science poses no challenges for their religious convictions. While The Clergy Letter Project is a growing and vibrant movement, it is but one example of how clergy members and members of their congregations appreciate and support science. Some go further, finding that their religious convictions are deepened as scientific advances lead us to better understand the complexities inherent in the world around us.
This recognition of the importance of science is the reason that the organization voted overwhelmingly to endorse and participate in the March for Science and, now, to participate in Vote for Science. Members recognize that voting for individuals who understand and promote science is not a partisan political act. Rather it is an act of common sense, an act that stands to benefit humanity, and an act that demonstrates that Enlightenment values are alive and well in the 21st century.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the March for Science.
Michael Zimmerman is the founder and executive director of The Clergy Letter Project. His PhD is in evolutionary biology and he has served as a biology professor and senior academic administrator at a number of colleges and universities. He can be reached at email@example.com