Religious creationists and evolutionists have been gathering across the country and internationally over the weekend to examine and debate the compatibility of science and religion.
According to the Clergy Letter Project, which has sponsored Evolution Weekend events since 2005, more than 850 religious congregations throughout the world were expected to participate in Evolution Weekend 2010, which kicked off Friday with Darwin Day.
Those who signed up to join this year's observance have been using the opportunity to show through sermons, discussion groups, conversations and seminars that religion and science are not adversaries.
They say that those who claim that people must choose between religion and science are creating a "false dichotomy."
"Evolution Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science," say the people behind the Clergy Letter Project.
"One important goal is to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic - to move beyond sound bites. A second critical goal is to demonstrate that religious people from many faiths and locations understand that evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith," they add.
For about five years now, educators and members of the clergy have been working together to bridge the gap between science and religion by organizing the annual teach-in, timed to coincide with the Feb. 12 birthday of 19th-century naturalist Charles Darwin. Evolution Weekend, which began in 2006 as Evolution Sunday, was the product of the Clergy Letter Project, an initiative spearheaded by biology professor Michael Zimmerman in 2004 after a Wisconsin school board sought to pass anti-evolution measures.
Since 2004, more than 12,400 Christian clergymen from various denominations in the United States have signed "The Clergy Letter," expressing their belief "that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist."
In the letter, Christian clergy contend: "Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.
"We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth," they add.
While the list of signers has been steadily growing each year, along with a separate but similar "Rabbi Letter" and "UU (Unitarian Universalist) Clergy Letter," the percentage of Americans who believe both in the theory of evolution and in God has dropped in recent years after reaching a peak in 1999.
And with good reason, says prominent evangelical theologian Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr.
While the Baptist seminary head does not deny that changes do take place in the animal kingdom and that there is even a process of natural selection, he firmly rejects the argument that the process is entirely natural and in no case supernatural.
"[T]he dominant theory of evolution – the theory as taught and defended by the world's leading evolutionary scientists – explicitly rules out any supernatural design or interference at any point in the evolutionary continuum. That fact alone makes the theory incompatible with any legitimate affirmation of divine creation or of biblical theism," states Mohler.
So while there are those like Zimmerman who insist that the theories of Darwin are compatible with the teachings of Christianity and Judaism, there are those like Mohler who suggest that those who try to reconcile Christianity and Darwin's version of evolutionary theory are either confused Christians or confused evolutionists – or both.
"[T]he theology that has declared a truce with Darwin is a theology that is required, for example, to see God allowing any number of possible outcomes to history – a God who is 'deeply involved' in creation, but not omnipotent. So I repeat my assertion: This is not biblical Christianity," Mohler states.
According to the Gallup Organization, 36 percent of Americans last year said they believe that human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life and that God guided the process. In 1999, 40 percent of Americans confessed to holding the same belief, and 38 percent said the same in 1982, when Gallup first started polling about creation and evolution.
Meanwhile, 44 percent of Americans last year said they believe God created human beings "pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so" – a statement coinciding with the literal reading of the Bible. The same percentage was found in Gallup's 1982 poll.
Lastly, 14 percent of Americans told Gallup last year that they believe human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life and that God had no part in the process. That figure has been slowly growing since 1982, when only 9 percent of Americans expressed belief in the God-less version of evolution.