he headline in the Chicago Tribune’s online edition grabbed attention: “Churches to Mark Darwin’s Birthday: Hundreds to Join ‘Evolution Sunday’ . . .”1
Could this be true? Is someone pulling a prank? Christian churches celebrating Charles Darwin?
No, I wasn’t dreaming. The story by Tribune national correspondent Lisa Anderson reported what was to happen the following day, Sunday, February 12, 2006: “Nearly 450 Christian churches around the country,” it said, “plan to celebrate the 197th birthday of Charles Darwin . . . with programs and sermons intended to emphasize that his theory of biological evolution is compatible with faith and that Christians have no need to choose between religion and science.”2
The catalyst for the event was Michael Zimmerman of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, who’d been pushing for the celebration since 2004 through his Clergy Letter Project. According to the Project’s Web page, “more than 10,000 Christian clergy have already signed the . . . Letter demonstrating that . . . [the division between religion and modern science] is a false dichotomy.” The 450 congregations, said the page, come “from 49 states and the District of Columbia,” and include Methodist, Lutheran, United Church of Christ, and Baptist, among others.3
Just two observations on these developments:
1. A recurring element in the Internet samplings I did was the interchangeable use of the terms science and evolution, with the idea being conveyed that to reject evolution was to reject science. In his interview with the Tribune Zimmerman charged “fundamentalist voices” with “demanding that people had to choose between religion and science.” And a posting on one Web site noted that “science has done so much to improve our standard of living . . . making religion look bad, like the hocus pocus voodoo it is.” This sloppiness in the use of language on such a hot topic left me cold. Most Adventists (whom this crowd would likely include with Fundamentalists) reject evolution, but they don’t reject science. One of the staunchest anti-evolutionists among us made the following intriguing statement: “A knowledge of science of all kinds is power, and it is in the purpose of God that advanced science shall be taught in our schools as a preparation for the work that is to precede the closing scenes of earth’s history.”4
2. I think the organizers of “Evolution Sunday” meant well. In their own way they wanted the world (and the scientific community) to know that not all Christians subscribe to the beliefs and methods of the Christian Right. Still, the Clergy Letter that galvanized them was a study in the art of sophistry.5 After making the dubious claim that “the overwhelming majority [of Christians] do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook,” it goes on to affirm the following: “Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible--the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark--convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation.” It’s a loaded statement, carefully designed to confuse the unwary. At bottom, it opens the door to the manipulation of the biblical text in conformity to any “scientific” theory in vogue at the moment.
By signing the Letter, the clergypersons openly affirmed the words of the letter--that “the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth,” and to reject it “or to treat it as ‘one theory among others’ is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance. . . .” How that affirmation is understood among the general public would depend on the way they understand the teachings of Darwin. In the words of the Tribune correspondent, “Darwin’s theory holds that life on Earth, including humans, shares common ancestry and developed over millions of years through the mechanisms of natural selection and random mutation.”
Isn’t it curious? God at the Creation gave us the Sabbath to remind us of His creative work. In time, certain of His followers changed the observance day from Sabbath to Sunday. And now these divines boldly are using Sunday to celebrate evolution. There’s got to be a supernatural mastermind behind a twist like that!