Evolution Weekend and Science Sunday
It’s Evolution Weekend at Lab and Pew, a hundred years after Harry Emerson Fosdick preached his famous sermon, “Will Fundamentalists Win?”
I belong to a group called the Clergy Letter Project led by Professor Michael Zimmerman. Dr. Zimmerman points to the 2n/a February weekend of each year at “Evolution Weekend”. Why? This weekend is closest to Charles Darwin’s birthday, February 12. And because over the past few decades, too many evolutionary controversies have broken Christian unity. How can the lab and bench on this upcoming Science Sunday heal this particular divide?
In this series of Patheos columns on science and religion I recently posed a question from Evolution Weekend: Should Christians throw out Darwin? My answer: no. But there’s so much more than evolution to think about on Science Sunday.
In my opinion, harmony in the congregation I now serve – Cross and Crown Lutheran Church and School in Rohnert Park CA – has escaped this particular controversy. No one gave up their angry fists and denounced Charles Darwin. Phew.
Evolution Weekend 2022 will address the pressing issue of climate change. As important as climate change is, I have two other thoughts to share.
Even if we’re not tackling climate change right now, we should still be celebrating Science Sunday together. Why? Because there are two major cultural movements that we Christians should be concerned about: (1) the anti-science movement and (2) the militant atheist movement. Allow me to introduce them briefly.
The anti-science movement
First, we have seen an unexpected rise in anti-science sentiment in recent years. Scientists fear they have lost the social respect they once enjoyed. Do scientists need churches as allies?
The editors of American Scientist defending himself from social media headquarters. “Social media is amplifying toxic misinformation on an unprecedented scale” (Fletcher and Jen Schwartz September 2019, 27). What defense is needed? Cold attention to data accompanied by sober conclusions. But such careful science seems to be tied down by anti-science.
During the Covid 19 pandemic, for example, much of our country sought advice from public health experts at the National Institutes of Health and the Center for Disease Control. To a large extent, these medical scientists are able to save countless lives. Yet these scientists are largely in disbelief. Even reviled. The result is a death toll beyond our imaginations just two years ago. This phase of the anti-science movement is self-destructive.
Why has the public lost faith in our scientific experts? Should we in the churches announce solidarity with scientific knowledge and even with scientists as people? My Evolution Weekend answer is “yes”.
The militant atheist movement
Second, a new and vicious form of atheism has emerged. It all started in the fall of 2006 with the publication of Richard Dawkins The illusion of God;. His influence has only grown since then. Militant atheists blame religion for the violence of the world and attack our beliefs with relentless ridicule. Atheist missionaries recruit our teenagers on cell phones daily.
Part of the propaganda technique is to pretend that only atheists have science. If science is the sheep’s clothing, the atheist is the wolf hiding under the scientific mantle. [Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing by Harry Warwick]
Atheist wolves in scientific clothes
We in the churches need to discern the difference between good science and the wolf-atheist lurking beneath it. This will not be easy.
University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne, for example, declares war on religion. What Coyne is hiding here is that he is declaring war in the name of atheism, not in the name of science.
“Religion and science are engaged in a kind of war, a war for understanding, a war over whether we should have good reasons for what we accept as true…I see it as one battle in a larger war – a war between rationality and superstitions Religion is only one brand of superstition (others include beliefs in astrology, paranormal phenomena, homeopathy and spiritual healing), but it is the most widespread and harmful form of superstition” (Coyne 2015, xii).
Obviously, we believers should humble ourselves because we fall into irrationality and superstition. Oh, I have a headache! I got my doctorate. at Dr. Coyne University.
When facing characters like Coyne on Evolution Weekend or any other time, religious eyes must see through the science clothing to the atheist wolf beneath.
Science and Religion on Science Sunday
For the health of our society, we need a strong dose of science and religion. The great physicist, Albert Einstein, said: “”Science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind” (Einstein 1950, 26) To cure lameness and blindness, we ask that our scientific knowledge be supplemented by our faith in God.
In a previous post, I asked: can science do without religion? My answer: no. To be more precise, society cannot do without either science or religion. Chicago pastor Peter Marty recognizes the complementarity.
“Scientific explanation, however wonderfully constructive, cannot exhaust reality. Faith helps complete the picture by turning our lives to the reality of a personal God who loves and sustains this gloriously complex cosmos” (Marty April 2014, 3).
Indian theologian Job Kozhamthadam draws “…two conclusions: (1) a constructive dialogue between science and religion is possible; and (2) such dialogue is badly needed” (Kozhamthadam 2002, 40). 
Finally, how best to celebrate Science Sunday during Evolution Weekend? If you are on a bench, stand up. Walk to the lab. Find a scientist and give him a big hug.
Ted Peters directs traffic at the intersection of science, religion and ethics. Peters is a professor at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), where he co-edits the journal, Theology and science, on behalf of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS), Berkeley, California, USA. He is author of Play God? Genetic determinism and human freedom (Routledge, 2n/a ed., 2002) and editor of AI and AI: Utopia or Extinction? (ATF 2019). Watch for his next volume with ATF, The Voice of Christian Public Theology. Visit his website: TedsTimelyTake.com.
 There are resources as I often point out. If you are an evangelical Christian, tie in with BioLogos. If you are a Muslim, note how the Iranian physicist, Medhi Golshani, collects affirmative testimonies in his series of books, Can science do without religion? (Golshani, 2021) If you are Jewish, visit Sinai and Synapses. If you are a Lutheran, join the Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology and visit the monthly magazine Covalence.
ESSSAT (European Society for the Study of Science and Theology) publishes a nice newsletter. Also visit Greg Coatsona’s blog, Science for the Churchas well as reading the Bulletin of the Science and Religion Initiative. The newspaper, Zygon, has been a pioneering publication for half a century, attracting scholars from the Institute for Religion in an Age of Science (IRAS).
At Berkeley, I work with physicist-theologian Robert John Russell at the Center for Theology and Natural Sciences, part of the Graduate Theological Union. For two decades we have published an excellent scientific journal, Theology and science. The science-religion sandbox is filled with many toys for our minds to play with.
Coyne, Jerry. 2015. Faith versus reality: why science and religion are incompatible. New York: Vikings.
Einstein, Albert. 1950. From my last years. New York: Philosophical Library.
Fletcher, Seth and Kate Wong Jen Schwartz. September 2019. “Truth, lies and uncertainty”. American Scientist 27.
Golshani, Mehdi, ed. 2021. Can science do without religion? 5th. Tehran: Al-Mustafa International Center for Publication and Translation.
Kozhamthadam, Job. 2002. “Science and Religion: Past Estrangement and Current Possible Engagement.” In Contemporary science and religion in dialogue: challenges and opportunities, by ed., Job Kozhamthadam, 2-45. Pune, India: ASSR Publications, Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth.
Martin, Peter. April 2014. “Science and Faith.” The Living Lutheran 3.