Presbyterian Church refuses to endorse Evolution Weekend

Michael Zimmerman reports today in the Huffington Post that the Presbyterian Church (USA) has declined to endorse the Clergy Letter Project and declare the second Sunday in February to be Evolution Sunday. Specifically, Reverend John Shuck, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Elizabethton, Tennessee, and his congregation are longtime supporters of the Clergy Letter, and Reverend Shuck proposed that the General Assembly of the church vote to support Evolution Sunday. A subcommittee voted the proposal down by the astonishing margin of 47-2. Why am I not surprised?

I am not surprised because, a dozen or so years ago, a colleague of mine invited me to speak at a Presbyterian church in Golden, Colorado. I do not remember exactly what the title was, but the content was probably something like this. Before I was allowed to speak, I had to be vetted by several of the elders of the church, so I met my colleague and three others for breakfast one morning before class. I had a pleasant time chatting with them, and they apparently decided that I was OK, because we selected a date and time, and the talk was announced.

Almost immediately, a certain unpleasant, aromatic material hit the fan. The church, as my colleague put it, was torn apart; it immediately divided into two factions, those for and those against my talk. They estimated (if I remember correctly) that roughly half the congregation had threatened to quit if the invitation was not rescinded. My colleague was mortified: How could it possibly be that his church could not even discuss modern science? When would they enter the modern era? How could half his church be completely unwilling to listen, to turn a blind eye to a discussion of what should have been an important issue in the church? So my talk, which had been carefully vetted, was canceled in the blink of that blind eye.

And sure enough, now, a dozen years, later Professor Zimmerman quotes an unidentified person saying, “I have people in my family who believe in evolution and those who don’t. Why add fuel to the fire?” Professor Zimmerman responds to that sentiment,

When people believe that being religious means that some scientific concepts can’t be discussed or accepted, damage is done to both religion and science. Under such circumstances, the teaching of science can be inappropriately influenced by misguided religious belief. At the same time, many thoughtful individuals will stay away from congregations that pit science against religion.

And I will let that be the last word.