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Congregations Prepare to Observe Evolution Weekend

Nearly 1,000 congregations across the country have announced plans to participate in Evolution Weekend Feb. 13-15 in order to spark serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science. Among the participants listed on the Evolution Weekend Web site are a dozen Baptist churches, as well as congregations in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and 13 other nations.

With the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin occurring on Feb. 12 and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his work On the Origin of Species also happening in 2009, many religious leaders hope to use services that weekend to make it clear that those claiming that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy.

One important goal is to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic–to move beyond sound bites, explains the Web site for Evolution Weekend. A second critical goal is to demonstrate that religious people from many faiths and locations understand that evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith.

Evolution Weekend grew out of an earlier effort called The Clergy Letter Project, which began in 2004. Michael Zimmerman, the dean of the college of liberal arts and sciences at Butler University, initiated the effort in 2004 by enlisting clergy in Wisconsin to sign a letter in response to anti-evolution policies passed by a local school board.

The effort grew nationwide and sparked the start of Evolution Weekend. First called Evolution Sunday, 467 congregations participated in 2006 and 618 congregations participated in 2007. Last year, the effort was renamed Evolution Weekend and saw 814 congregations participate. The Clergy Letter Project has been officially endorsed by the United Methodist Church and the Southeast Florida Diocese of the Episcopal Church.

Evolution Weekend shows that the disagreement is actually not between religious leaders and scientists, but rather between those who believe that their particular religious views should be incorporated into the science curriculum and clergy who recognize and respect the diversity of different faith traditions, argued Zimmerman in a statement about the 2009 weekend. With clergy members and scientists banding together to proclaim that their two fields have much to teach us about the world and the people in it, with the two groups demonstrating that they can work collaboratively, there is now hope that we can put the divisiveness that has been the hallmark of this struggle behind us.

One of the Baptist churches participating in Evolution Weekend will be First Baptist Church of Kansas City, Mo. Rev. Douglas Valentine told EthicsDaily.com in an e-mail that later this month the church will hear from Dr. Mary Haskins, professor of evolution and biology at Rockhurst University and a life-long person of faith in Christ. He is encouraging his congregants to come to learn how a professor of evolution and active believer in Christ, understands our God, self, and this world over which we are to be good stewards.

Another Baptist church that will take part in Evolution Weekend is University Baptist Church in Austin, Texas. Rev. Larry Bethune outlined several reasons his congregation is having the emphasis, including his belief that the scientific theory of evolution is not incompatible with our Christian biblical faith.

The attack on evolution by the religious right falsely pits science against religion, Bethune wrote in an e-mail to EthicsDaily.com. Essentially the two are not incompatible, but ask different questions and have different ways of seeking truth.

The senseless controversy over the theory of evolution further divides and discredits the church, Bethune added. Religious leaders need to raise their voices to oppose those who wish to exploit controversy to the detriment of the church, the society, and the scientific education and inquiry through which God has brought our world many healing gifts.

First Baptist Church of Gaithersburg, Md. will also mark Evolution Weekend. Rev. Larry Hudson told EthicsDaily.com that his church will spend three Sunday evening sessions talking about the proper relationship between science and religion.

With a bit of philosophy of science and philosophy of religion, we hope to unwind the conflict model in favor of one of respectful dialog, Hudson wrote in an e-mail. After addressing some of the classic objections for persons of faith to embrace Darwinian evolution, we will push further into Natural Theology, examining the sweeping scientific metanarrative of natural history, and what that might say about God and His purposes.

Efforts to promote Evolution Weekend 2009 include a Facebook group, a YouTube video, and some free copies of Nature’s Witness: How Evolution Can Inspire Faith by Daniel Harrell, who is pastor at Park Street Church in Boston. Also found on the Evolution Weekend Web site are sermons from previous years.

Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor to EthicsDaily.com.