In the United States this weekend is being observed as Evolution Weekend by hundreds of churches. Some 11,500 clergy have signed a letter endorsing evolutionary science, because science is under attack from Christians.
The letter is worded thus:
“Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret Holy Scripture. While virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and practice, the overwhelming majority do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook. 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. Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.
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. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris . . . We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth”.
It is sad that such a letter has ever been necessary. Is being a Christian about being in a tight circle of people who all think the same thing? Or is it about having the courage to go out and engage with the world, which means engaging with every branch of science and human knowledge? Is God the god of those who dismiss physics and geology and biology and astronomy and archaeology and history? Or is God a god big enough to accommodate the realities of the universe?
The church has spent centuries getting things wrong—since the days of the 17th Century when the church declared that Galileo was wrong when he said that the Earth went around the sun because this was contrary to the literal reading of Scripture. The rejection of the theory of evolution is part of a long tradition of Christians opposing science, a tradition that has done untold damage to our witness to Jesus Christ.
My late mother-in-law left me a bequest in her will and I wanted to buy something that was lasting, so last summer I bought a telescope. It opened up a whole new world. I can stand in my backyard and look up at a nebula in the constellation of Orion. It appears like a white cloud in my telescope and is an area of space where new stars are forming; photographs of the nebula from high powered telescopes show it as something very beautiful. It is 1270 light years away (that’s about twelve million billion kilometres) and 24 light years across—except if I was a fundamentalist, I could not accept those numbers because I would believe the universe is only six thousand years old.
I have to decide. Do I believe in a cosmic God of infinite nature who is the soul and spirit of the cosmos, or do I believe in a little God who needs to be protected from the scientists?
When I stand and look up into the night sky, I know which God I prefer.