By Amanda C. Thompson
Gordon College News Service
February 10, 2010
(This article also appeared in BioLogos.)
(This article also appeared in BioLogos.)
Charles Darwin turns 201 this Friday, February 12, 2010, and schools and churches across the Bay State are gearing up to celebrate. Salem State College and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Falmouth, MA, devote entire weeks to evolution’s daddy. If the International Darwin Day Foundation has its way, the 12th of February could even become an official holiday.
Not everyone, though, is ready to party. Some local scientists aren’t convinced there’s a need for such a holiday and don’t think it will happen. Karl Giberson (pictured here), a professor of physics and engineering at Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, MA, and author of the best-selling book “Saving Darwin,” doesn’t see the point.
“We don’t have an Einstein day or a Newton day. I don’t think we need a Darwin Day,” said Giberson. “Politicians wouldn’t propose something that would upset so many Christians.”
Patty Dupray, a science teacher at Beverly High School, agreed that an official Darwin Day won’t – and shouldn't – happen. “You’d get too much adversity from people who don’t accept evolution,” she said.
Dupray’s class is too tight on time to celebrate Darwin’s birthday, which seems to be the case for other classrooms and schools in the area. Instead, teachers encourage their classes to get involved in science activities outside of school.
Dupray recommended a relevant documentary and the Waring School in Beverly is inviting kids to attend Salem State’s week of Darwin-related festivities, which includes formal and video lectures and relevant movies.
“We celebrate Darwin by teaching him,” said Dupray. She teaches evolution as a theory with plenty of evidence to look at but, she said, it’s up to the students to decide if they believe it and some don’t. For instance, one student taking the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test responded to all evolution-related questions with: “I don’t believe in evolution.” This student is not alone.
Giberson—who’s also vice president of the BioLogos Foundation, a group that Dr. Francis Collins of the National Institute of Health founded to reconcile science and faith—said there is a real need for conversation on the subject of evolution. Many scientists and religious leaders are, like Giberson, seeking a less polarized and better-informed exchange about human origins.
“You can’t have a conversation about Darwin in church any more than you could have a conversation about pornography,” said Giberson. “Almost half of the people in the U.S. still reject evolution based on the creation story in the bible, which, taken literally, suggests that the Earth is ten thousand years old. Science simply doesn’t support a ten-thousand-year-old Earth.”
Michael Zimmerman, a professor of biology at Butler University and founder of the Clergy Letters Project, agreed that the quality of science/religion discussion should be elevated. The two can, and should, ride in tandem.
More than twelve thousand religious leaders across the country have signed the Clergy Letter, which says, “To reject [evolution] or to treat it as ‘one theory among others’ is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance.” Forty-three leaders from Massachusetts have signed it.
“The scientific method can’t answer questions about the existence of God,” Zimmerman admitted. “But to have to throw out science to keep your faith is a weird kind of religion, and bringing intelligent design into schools is teaching the antithesis of the scientific method.”
The Unitarian Universalist Church in Falmouth, MA—which is not tied to the Clergy Letters Project—fully supports the formalization of Darwin Day.
“We celebrate Darwin Day every year,” said Reverend Robert Murphy. “It’s actually more like Darwin month for us.” Starting with Groundhog Day, his church dedicates the month of February to the celebration of evolution, science, and animals.
The idea that science and religion could be at odds baffled Murphy. Most Unitarians have supported Darwin from the start, who was a Universalist himself. “For most of our people there has never been a conflict,” Murphy said.
Yet for many the conflict is very real, and very heated.
“I think Darwin would be mystified if he could see us now,” said Giberson. “At his time, Christians had moved past the view that the Earth was ten thousand years old. The fact that people still believe that makes Christianity seem primitive and backward; soon we’ll be putting the Earth back at the center of the universe.”
And when he was writing his books, Darwin worried that they would upset the churches, according to Zimmerman.
“He would be astounded that the fight he didn’t see in his lifetime is happening now, even though we have so much more evidence,” said Zimmerman. “Though what we’ve found is so consistent with what he said that I’m sure he’d be tickled.”