Misconstruing Evolution Sunday

Yale Daily News – Evolution Sunday not so benign

Here we have Jonathan Dudley filling in some column-inches in the Yale Daily News. Now, blathering on for a certain number of words is a time-honored tradition in print journalism. Nowadays, those bits get transferred to the Internet. And that is where the linked article comes in.

Most of it is innocuous. Where Dudley goes off into the weeds is when he tries to generate a frisson of suspense.

While Evolution Sunday may help dissipate this warring attitude, its impact on the Church may not be entirely benign. In telling congregants to embrace the theory of evolution, the event perpetuates the same herd mentality it is designed to combat. Rather than learning to transcend their peculiar subcultures and critically engage ideas themselves, Christians will learn to assimilate another opinion because an authority tells them to. It’s hard to see how this is a substantial improvement from the previous state of affairs, in which Christians were taught to accept the opposition proposition, that evolution is not true, just as uncritically.

The trick to blathering on to fill column inches is in staying within one’s field of experience. Dudley’s field of experience includes general topics in religion. However, it doesn’t include the specifics of what happens on Evolution Sunday.

One doesn’t have to speculate on how the clergy involved in Evolution Sunday approach the topic; one can read their sermons. I’ve read several myself, and so far none of those in my sample ask their congregations to take the findings of science as a given on the say-so of authority.

If Dudley wants to accuse Evolution Sunday of authority-mongering and herd-mentality-inculcating, it would be best if he didn’t simply wave his hands, but rather presented some hard evidence that his stance has any validity whatsoever.

Here’s a part of a sermon by the Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall of the First Christian Church of Lompoc. Notice how it is specifically not authority that gets pride of place; it is the evidence that convinces.

The problem is, there is overwhelming evidence to support evolution’s claims. There have been many challenges to aspects of the theory, but none have replaced it. The piece of evidence that I find most convincing is one that affects our daily lives. Evolution lets medical researchers use animals, like mice and chimps to test medicines that save human lives. These tests wouldn’t work if we didn’t all share some common DNA. Darwin didn’t know about DNA, but it supports his theory. So, if you like modern medicine, you’ve got to like
evolution.

I think that I will close with a selection from the sermon of Doris Westfall of the Trinity Episcopal Church, St. Charles, MO, which certainly stands opposed to acceptance of evolution by authority alone:

Perhaps what can be helpful in this argument is a good dose of humility-both on the part of scientists as well as on the part of the faithful. Both need “to recognize the limits in their way of knowing and leave room for the other.” Both need to stand in awe and wonder at the mystery of the physical creation, God’s incarnation in it and humanity’s call to be a part of it. Science and faith are not enemies of one another but allies in teaching us about creation. William King, a Lutheran pastor at a major research institution, writes of a preeminent scientist by the name of William Bragg, who was a forerunner in the field of X-ray crystallography. Dr. Bragg was asked whether science and faith were opposed to one another. “Yes, he replied, ‘but only in the sense that my thumb and forefinger are opposed to one another—between them I can grasp everything.”

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

One thought on “Misconstruing Evolution Sunday

  • 2007/02/02 at 9:17 pm
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    Wesley,

    Thank you for setting the record straight on Evolution Sunday. Of course as one of the two preachers you quote, I am even more appreciative and quite honored. By the way, I’ll be preaching on this again this year, and I can assure Mr. Dudley that no one will be taking my word just because I give it.

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