By NEELA BANERJEE and ANNE BERRYMAN
Published: February 13, 2006
On the 197th birthday of Charles Darwin, ministers at several hundred
churches around the country preached yesterday against recent efforts to
undermine the theory of evolution, asserting that the opposition many
Christians say exists between science and faith is false.
Skip to next paragraph
Forum: Human Origins
At St. Dunstan's Episcopal Church, a small contemporary structure among the
pricey homes of north Atlanta, the Rev. Patricia Templeton told the 85
worshipers gathered yesterday, "A faith that requires you to close your mind
in order to believe is not much of a faith at all."
In the basement of an apartment building in Evanston, Ill., the Rev.
Mitchell Brown said to the 21 people who came to services at the Evanston
Mennonite Church that Darwin's theories in fact had compelled people to have
faith rather than look for "special effects" to confirm the existence of
"He forced religion to grow up, to become, really, faith for the first
time," Mr. Brown said. "The life of community, that is where we know God
The event, called Evolution Sunday, is an outgrowth of the Clergy Letter
Project, started by academics and ministers in Wisconsin in early 2005 as a
response to efforts, most notably in Dover, Pa., to discredit the teaching
of evolutionary theory in public schools.
"There was a growing need to demonstrate that the loud, shrill voices of
fundamentalists claiming that Christians had to choose between modern
science and religion were presenting a false dichotomy," said Michael
Zimmerman, dean of the College of Letters and Sciences at the University of
Wisconsin Oshkosh and the major organizer of the letter project.
Mr. Zimmerman said more than 10,000 ministers had signed the letter, which
states, in part, that the theory of evolution is "a foundational scientific
truth." To reject it, the letter continues, "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," the letter says.
Most of the signatories to the project and those preaching on Sunday were
from the mainline Protestant denominations. Their congregations have shrunk
sharply over the last 30 years. At the same time, the number of evangelical
and fundamentalist Christians has risen considerably, and many of them,
because of their literalist view of the Bible, doubt evolutionary theory.
The Clergy Letter Project said that 441 congregations in 48 states and the
District of Columbia were taking part in Evolution Sunday, but that was
impossible to verify independently. Around Chicago, two churches that were
listed on the project's Web site as participants in the event said they were
in fact not planning to deliver sermons on the subject.
Still, those who did attend sermons welcomed what they heard. After the
service at St. Dunstan's, Brett Lowe, a 41-year-old computer engineer, sat
in a pew as his son Ian, 2, and daughter, Paige, 6, played at his side.
"Sermons like this are exactly the reason we came to this church," Mr. Lowe
"Observation, hypothesis and testing — that's what science is," he said.
"It's not religion. Evolution is a fact. It's not a theory. An example is
antibiotics. If we don't use antibiotics appropriately, bacteria become
resistant. That's evolution, and evolution is a fact. To not acknowledge
that is to not acknowledge the world around you."
Jeanne Taylor, 65, a recently retired registered nurse attending services at
St. Dunstan's, said the Bible was based on oral tradition and today "science
is a part of our lives."
At the Evanston Mennonite Church, Susan Fisher Miller, 48, an editor and
English professor, said, "I completely accept and affirm the view of God as
creator, but I accommodate evolution within that."
To Ms. Fisher Miller, alternatives to evolutionary theory proposed by its
critics, such as intelligent design, seem an artificial way to use science
to explain the holy. "It's arrogant to say that either religion or science
can answer all our questions," she said. "I don't see the need either to
banish one or the other or to artificially unite them."