Shuck and Jive

Friday, February 12, 2010

Elizabethton Evolves

Thanks to Greg Miller of the Elizabethton Star for today's article about Evolution Sunday!

On Sunday, Feb. 14, First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton will celebrate "Evolution Sunday" for the fifth year.

The theme of this year's service will be "Learning the Ancestors' Tale." Pastor John Shuck's sermon title is "Better Living Through Evolution." "Evolution is not only for biologists," Shuck said. "Understanding evolution (variation, consequence and heredity) helps with human behavior as well. A great book is David Sloan Wilson's, 'Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives.' For example, why do some pregnant women experience 'morning sickness?' Why are there fast food restaurants (salt, fat, sugar) on every corner and why do so many people struggle with obesity and addiction? These puzzlers and many more can be explained most elegantly when we understand our evolutionary history.

"The Clergy Letter Project began in 2006 and we were involved since it began," said Shuck. Evolution Sunday is part of the Clergy Letter Project, which was begun in response to the resistance that some Christians have to evolutionary science. "This letter signed by over 12,000 clergy states that there is not a conflict between evolutionary science and faith," Shuck said. "Therefore, evolution should be taught in public schools as the letter says, 'as a core component of human knowledge' not simply 'just a theory.'"

Shuck continued, "Evolution is as solid a scientific reality as the theory of gravity or the theory that earth revolves around the sun. However, according to the latest 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. We have a problem. Many Christians treat the Bible as an inerrant science book which it never was intended to be nor can be. These Christians think that they cannot affirm evolution and be a Christian. We need Christians and Christian clergy to speak out for science and for evolutionary theory in particular."

A news release states, "On Evolution Sunday, we honor our ancestors, the deep ancestors who are part of our evolutionary history. The via creativa of evolution is our teacher and our guide. The creativity of the Universe is active and surprising us at every turn. As theologian, Gordon Kaufmann, reminds us: "...(we) are not alone in (our) healing activities: the serendipitous creativity that has brought about this whole human biohistorical process can be expected to continue manifesting itself within it.

"All of life is related, literally," said Shuck. "We are not just related to human beings but to every living thing past and present through biology. Our ancestors are not just human ancestors. That is only the tip of the iceberg. Every living thing shares a common ancestor. We can trace this history all the way back to our microbial beginnings four billion years ago as biologist Richard Dawkins in his book, 'The Ancestors' Tale.'"

Shuck continued, "Science is unfolding for us a new creation story, so to speak. We don't often tell this story in church. But it belongs in church. We tell the creation stories in the first chapters of Genesis, but the writers of these accounts of course did not share our modern understanding of the Universe, the age of Earth, and the evolution of species. Our 13.7 billion year cosmic history and our evolutionary history on Earth are sacred stories.

"We also affirm the poetry of Genesis that described a Creator who smiled at the Universe and saw that it 'was indeed very good." Gen. 1:31. This creativity continues. Earth and all of life including human life is evolving. Creation is still and continues to be 'indeed very good.' Perhaps being created in the image of God means that humanity is creative as well. We can use (and have used) that creativity for destructive purposes. Our future is perilous due to human creativity. We must be conscious of our creative power and use it for the work of justice, healing, and preservation of life."

Shuck says religion and science are intertwined too much. "So-called Creation Science or Creationism is an example of this unhealthy enmeshing," Shuck said. "It is neither good science nor good theology. It is simply wrong on all counts. Religion works with poetry and metaphor. It works with people in community working to find meaning, to cope with life, and to learn how to love our neighbor. Science studies our natural world which includes of course human behavior. We need both poetry (religion) and reason (science). But we need them in a collaborative dance not in competition and not intertwined."

First Presbyterian Church, Shuck says, has gained new members as a result of Evolution Sunday and the Clergy Letter Project.

"We are a voice in our community that is for a healthy relationship between reason and faith," he said. "Evolution Sunday is not simply an academic exercise nor a publicity stunt. We are serious.

"We are facing major ecological challenges, and human beings are only slowly becoming aware of our impact on Earth. The survival of our own species is at stake. Evolutionary science is foundational for everything from ecology, to the study of disease, to the study of animal and human behavior. I don't mean to sound sharp, but if the majority of the populace discounts science and replaces it with superstition, we are going to fail in educating our children and young adults in regards to how to come to terms with all the challenges they will face."

For more information, call the church at 543-7737 or visit


  1. Oh boy, that article is sure to bring out the haters. Good luck educating them.

  2. Yeah, but it will bring out the lovers too, and they'll help educate the haters. Maybe.

  3. John

    A couple of questions/observation about evolution.

    1. Are there any studies out there on the affect of pollution on human (and other species on evolution)?

    Since humans (particularly in more developed countries) now keep those with severe handicap and genetic medical problems alive through extraordinary means how might this relate to human evolution? Are there studies on the subject

  4. Bob -

    These might give you some information:

    There are also some interesting ideas floating around Amotz Zahavi's "Handicap Principle", which involved the evolution of showy but otherwise problematic traits, such as the peacock's tail.

    You also might find this tidbit interesting:

  5. Whether folks hate or love me is irrelevant. I just use my sphere of influence and resources to do what I think is the right thing.

    @Bob I'm clueless. If you find something, let me know.

  6. John

    I'm clueless too. The effect of pollution concerns and interests me more. I would think that living in a highly polluted area depending on the nature of the chemicals involved would cause a higher level of genetic abnormalities. I understand that this is the case in the areas around industrial plants that produce chemicals in the plants that we shipped to Mexico. These abnormalities at this point are severe and probably will not produce children who can compete in the evolutionary environment.

    But I wonder about pollution on a larger scale. Assuming that global warming produces a situation in which the UV rays are stronger I would think that evolution would favor those who do not get skin cancer.

    In any case I haven't seen any articles on this.

  7. A biologist or ecologist would be the best person to address your question.

    My wild guess from someone who has no clue is when environment changes rapidly and significantly, or a new predator enters the environment, species go extinct.

    The danger is that our use of fossil fuels could change the environment to such a degree that humans go extinct.

    Obviously, because of the length of human life-spans and the time between generations, evolution is slow compared to the changes we have inflicted upon the environment (time differences in degrees of magnitude).

    Our story could be more like the dodo bird who when confronted with a new predator could not adapt and went extinct.

    That is my initial response from someone who is rank amateur. You might ask someone who would know.

  8. Bob,

    I'm no expert either, but my guess is that you reach a tipping point where the population can't sustain itself, gets 95 or 99% wiped out, and those that survive pass on the traits that allowed them to survive the crisis.

    The crisis may not be directly linked to the factors you mention, but once the population is eliminated, the factors go away.

    So evolution works in both directions. It strengthens both the survivors of the species, but it also re-balances and strengthens the ecosystem they live in.

  9. It's all about contingencies. It may be that something happens down the road that makes people with asthma better suited to survive than those without, or obese people survive a famine!

  10. Pastor Bob,
    Your question relates to the field of "genotoxicity." There are quite a lot of research in this area.
    You might also be interested in

    "endocrine disrupters,"

    "deformed Minnesota frogs."

    "Minamata disease"

    "declining male fertility."

  11. "Whether folks hate or love me is irrelevant. I just use my sphere of influence and resources to do what I think is the right thing."

    Well said!