Shuck and Jive

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Evolution Now

Until the majority of churches in America preach evolution from the pulpit and teach evolution in inspiring ways to their children and youth, we will never see an end to the science versus religion war in America and the evolution controversy in public schools. --Connie Barlow
Last Sunday, August 31st, Connie Barlow preached a powerful sermon at a UU church in Bethesda, MD. It is a manifesto for churches to teach evolution, our creation story, in church. Here is the sermon: Evolution Now: A Manifesto for Our UU Congregations (pdf). I am quoting a piece of her sermon below that provides the reason for teaching our cosmic creation story in church. When you see UU substitute Presbyterian, Baptist, or whatever tradition in which you participate:

Four years ago, while in Florida, I got a chance to serve as guest teacher in a UU religious education class for an age-group I rarely speak to: middle school kids. Usually I am in with elementary age groups—by choice. If I have but one opportunity to work with the children in a UU congregation, I always ask for the age group in which I have a chance to make the greatest impression at a most impressionable time of a child’s life. But four years ago, I was in with a group of perhaps 15 middle school students. So I decided to test a hypothesis I had come to. I began by asking them, “Tell me some creation stories from around the world.” The hands shot up and I heard about the Garden of Eden, of course, and about the classical Greek myths, and one Native American story.

My next question was this: “What is your creation story? . . . What is your creation story?”

Silence. No hands went up. So I walked over to one side of the room and began to lay out a timeline, visually, across the floor. I said, “In the beginning, what scientists call the Big Bang, what we like to call The Great Radiance, all that came from the great fireball were the simplest of atoms: gases of hydrogen and helium.”

“Oh,” one of the boys spoke up, “that’s what we’re learning in science class!”

Yes, that’s what they are learning in science class, if they are lucky. The teaching of cosmic evolution, chemical evolution, geological evolution, human evolution, as well as biological evolution is not available to every child in America. And I hope you can understand why, from the parents’ perspective, why that is so.

You see, we can expect that many parents and pastors and school board members will be highly motivated to continue fighting against the teaching of any science that seems to clash with a literal interpretation of the Genesis story. All sorts of ways will be found to keep the 14 billion year history of the Universe from being taught as a basic fact of science. Resistance will remain strong so long as parents fear that exposure to the science will erode the religious faith of their children. More, for those parents who still believe in a literal heaven and a literal hell as places one goes to for eternity, then they will feel that they are fighting for their children’s eternal wellbeing.

If that is the belief of a parent or pastor or school board member, can any of us criticize them for steadfastly rising up against the teaching of evolution as a basic fact of science?

Now, the root of the word religion, “religio,” means to yoke together. As Joseph Campbell said, “Religion is that which puts one in accord with the universe.” It is that which yokes together the myriad details of what one learns and what one experiences into a coherent Big Picture. This is a Big Picture that answers life’s biggest questions and that is a crucial ground during times of crisis. . . . Where do we come from? Who are we, really? What is our relationship to everything and to every creature around us? How are we to live? Why do pets and people have to die?

Back to my anecdote about creation stories . . . The boy who said, “Oh, that’s what we’re learning in science class,” had no clue that, as a Unitarian Universalist, he could yoke together—in fun and life-giving ways—what he was learning in science class with what he was learning in Sunday school.

Thus my proposal: Yes, let’s continue to teach our children about other religions and to appreciate the religious holy days of the diversity of peoples they are likely to meet in school and beyond. But let us not neglect the importance of teaching our children their creation story. Let us not neglect giving them a coherent Big Picture.

If this religious heritage of all religious heritages cannot find the courage to say Yes to the evolutionary worldview—not as but one among a variety of choices—but as the solid, coherent worldview basis for our children, then any actions we may put into participating in school board decisions and textbook choices will make little difference in the long run. Here, beginning right here in our churches, is where we can make the crucial difference for our culture.
Connie told our ancestral tale, The River of Life, with imagination today. Our story. Humanity's story.

Folks in the Tri-Cities will have two more opportunities to hear and see our cosmic story either Monday night at First Presbyterian in Elizabethton or Tuesday night at Holston Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Gray.

Perhaps congregations can start a cosmic revolution!


  1. I'm trying to work off a post on this, but I'm now in seminary and reading a fairly mainline protestant book on spiritual direction that I flies in the face of what we know about our evolutionary and cosmological story. He doesn't assert a literal Adam and Eve or 7 day creation, he's mainline after all.

    But he does seem to assert things about the cosmos; it's created to love us, to "rock us in joy", etc. I'm curious what my fellow students think but while there are many factors which act to sustain us, we live in a world that also can act to disrupt, tear down what we value and love (thinking of the recent hurricanes).

    In a cosomological level, most of the universe is filled with nothing, not matter, not stars, or planets, or galaxies, but a literal void. Such a world has elements that act as divine but much of the world is indifferent to this.

    In that, I don't think Darwin has really had a chance to make an impact even in the mainline. Or at least in a way that asks us to rethink our language about how we speak of this world, God's role in it, etc. What do ya think?

  2. I think it is an excellent sermon. I am always perplexed about this religion v science business: if you follow Aquinas and his First Cause theory God is the trigger which sets the whole process of Big Bang and Evolution in process.

  3. Dowd talks about the difference between day language and night language (science and myth). Who is it you are reading? The cosmos is created to love us sounds like night language.