Shuck and Jive

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Better Living Through Evolution

I am thinking of titling my sermon for this Sunday, "Better Living Through Evolution." This is of course a rip-off of the infamous phrase "Better Living Through Chemistry."

Some of my colleagues think it a rather odd thing to have Evolution Sunday in the first place. Why not Gravity Sunday or Boyle's Law Sunday?

On one hand, we could say that if you rightly understand evolution as sound a scientific discovery as gravity or Boyle's Law, then part of the purpose of Evolution Sunday has been accomplished.

The point of The Clergy Letter Project is to educate the populace (mostly a religious populace) regarding the importance of evolution for understanding the world. It is not ethical, wise, nor prudent to create some crazy theory like creationism or intelligent design to love Jesus. Therefore, Christians should promote the teaching of evolution to our children in our schools and denounce all forms of pseudo-science such as creationism and/or intelligent design.

My colleagues might say,

"Yeah, we got that. You can be a Christian and affirm evolution. You are preaching to the choir. Everyone in my congregation gets evolution."

Great. But there is more to it.

Evolution isn't just about biology. It can help us understand human behavior. While theology encourages us to think in categories such as sin and redemption, evolution encourages us to think in terms of variation, consequences, and heredity.

David Sloan Wilson in his book,
Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives, states the problem:

Most people are familiar with the reluctance of the general public to accept the theory of evolution, especially in the United States of America. According to the most recent Harris Poll, 54 percent of U.S. adults believe that humans did not develop from earlier species. That is up from 46 percent in 1994. Rejection of evolution extends to beliefs about the origin of other species, the fossil record as evidence for evolution, and the constant refrain that evolution is "just a theory." p. 2
OK, you already got that. He goes on...
To make matters worse, most people who do accept evolutionary theory don't use it to understand the world around them. For them it's about dinosaurs, fossils, and humans evolving from apes, not the current environment or human condition. The polls don't measure the fraction of people who relate evolution to their daily lives, but it would be minuscule. p. 2
This includes scientists:
With respect to evolution, most scientists and intellectuals would say that they accept Darwin's theory, but many would deny its relevance to human affairs or would blandly acknowledge its relevance without using it themselves in their professional or daily lives. p. 2.
This is why he teaches a course called "Evolution for Everyone" that is open to all students of all disciplines. A background in science or evolution is not required.
Freshman English majors got the message just as strongly as senior biology majors. p. 9
Perhaps preachers can learn something as well.
For many students who take a course such as the one that I offer, learning about evolution is like walking through a door and not wanting to return. Using it to think about their interests and concerns becomes second nature, like riding a bicycle. They are eager to develop their expertise in subsequent courses and disappointed by professors who do not share their newfound perspective. In response to this demand, I and my colleagues at Binghamton University created a program called EvoS than enables anyone to use evolutionary theory to explore the pageant of life on earth, including the pageant of human life. p. 9
Here is the website for Evolutionary Studies at Binghamton. I would love to take that course. Since Binghamton is a bit of a drive for me, I am going to settle for browsing the website and reading his book.

For the next several days leading up to Evolution Weekend, I will offer interesting tidbits from his book.

"Dancing With Ghosts" next time!


  1. Being out of the "Christian" loop -- I only recently heard about "evolution sunday." Have you noticed that it is a substitute for "Transfiguration Sunday"? !! at least that's the case in this particular liturgical year. Is it always the case? Inquiring blogging Christian minds would love to know.

    What great timing. I wonder if it started because ministers (at least the ones I know) hate having to deal with the transfiguration.

    Transfiguration as a result of evolution?

    Evolution as a way to understand Transfiguration? I'm of course assuming that John and others paying attention are familiar with the non-orthodox understanding of Paul's theology . . .

    Wow. Too bad I had to decline an invitation to preach at a UCC church over in Lovettsville, Virginia (about 30 miles away). Our new part-time consulting minister starts this Sunday, so I really need to hang with the Unitarians. I could have had lots of fun with this.

    Maybe I'll blog it. Stay tuned.

  2. Well, I did a Google search and this is the first Evolution Sunday since 2006 that happens to fall on Transfiguration Sunday.

    I'm blogging it.

  3. It has nothing to do with Transfiguration Sunday or Valentine's Day. It is the weekend that follows closest to Darwin's birthday, February 12th.

    Now it is bigger than Sunday and bigger than Christian. In addition to Christian clergy who have created and signed a letter, Jewish and UU clergy have joined with additional letters in support of teaching evolution in public schools.

  4. Right. I'm still blogging it. The theological implications are too tempting.

    I also discovered that UUs have signed on, along with a lot of others. I do remember that we had a special service celebrating Darwin's birthday, but didn't realize it was an ongoing project.

  5. I would love to see what you come up with. I am probably going to skip over the transfiguration story. Of course, I am also doing the Bhagavad Gita this year and might include Krishna's transfiguration story as well. Maybe it is an evolution of religion thing...

    ...of course we can't forget Valentine's Day...

  6. ...of course we can't forget Valentine's Day...

    Fossil-shaped chocolates, maybe?

  7. Therefore, Christians should promote the teaching of evolution to our children in our schools and denounce all forms of pseudo-science such as creationism and/or intelligent design.

    Then hopefully students will figure out that Christians believe in a magic god fairy who never had anything to do and they will throw out Christianity, which is the most idiotic invention in human history.

  8. Love back at ya, Ape.

    You certainly are welcome to your opinion.

    I do think you'll make more friends if you don't come over to someone's house and leave a big dump on the carpet.

    To each his own...

  9. Nice reply to Ape, John. By the way, I think there are many more idiotic inventions than Christianity (although perhaps a noodle shield is less likely to be misused to burn anyone at the stake)!

    Here are a few.

  10. Hmmm

    And I would have thought that the most idiotic (and tragic) human invention was this:

  11. Sunday is also Chinese New Year.

    I know some churches had Evolution Sunday last Sunday. And my local humanist community had their 15th annual Darwin Day celebration with a series of talks on evolution done by students and professors.

  12. It is simply an impossibility that I would not add a thought or 2 to this discussion.

    First, I love the archetype of Transfiguration. 3 Utica Presbyterian churches will be studyingDesmond Tutu's GOD HAS A DREAKM beginning this Sunday evening. Tutu uses the theme of Transfiguration throughout his inspiring and challenging book. I'm sure he embraces Evolution too.

    Second, I agree with those who believe we need to embrace Evolution firmly. There is absolutely no reason to think that we must come up with a different theory simply because Evolution refuses to back up the Genesis stories. Thanks John for your prophetic and illuminating contribution to this effort.

    Third, I am a fan of Christian myth and ritual because the radical meaning of our symbols and archetypes does not contradict but affirms the truths of Evolution. I see the effort of David Sloan Wilson as both a promotion of Evoltion and Transfiguration. True transfiguration is always happening right now, right here, in this holy moment of life. Perhaps the author of the Gospel of John understands that even better than those who gave us the story of the Transfiguration. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is always transfigured and transfiguring. He is all about change, changing himself and others into people who love one another. Not that the other Gospels don't promote change and love. They do too.

    We can evolve, be transfigured, into creatures who live life in a bold and compassionate way, advocating for and creating more and more peace and justice and joy, God's Holy Realm.

  13. Snad and Pastor Bob -- Now I know what real Presbyterians do during snowstorms . . . those images from Snad were from Malaysia . . . But Sorry Bob -- Snad's were more fun.

    I'll be posting my blog on Evolution (Transfiguration) Sunday later this morning.

    I appreciate very much the thoughts from Abundancetrek.

    My D.Min. project was about bringing the Celtic/Pagan Wheel of the Year back into Christian Liturgy, from which it was expunged sometime after the 7th Century . . .

  14. Evolution (Transfiguration) Sunday:

  15. Sea Raven

    I wasn't shooting for funny. I was going to tragic.