Shuck and Jive

Friday, February 04, 2011

Why Evolution Sunday?

First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton will be celebrating Evolution Sunday (actually Evolution Weekend) again this year. Here are the details of events for the weekend.

Why do we do this? There are a number of reasons, but Michael Zimmerman, founder of the Clergy Letter Project and Evolution Weekend, describes the presenting problem in his article, Send in the Creationist Clowns and Watch Science Education Suffer:

The circus is coming back to town! I hope everyone is ready for the spectacle that is certain to ensue. And I hope everyone is ready for the expenses that this particular circus is guaranteed to incur.

The host will (again) be the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) as it continues its assault on science education across the state of Texas. Two years ago, despite outrage expressed by the country's scientific community and over the express wishes of educational experts, the SBOE rewrote the state's science guidelines to make them particularly friendly to creationism. In March the SBOE will begin the process of approving the textbooks to be used in implementing the new guidelines. Because Texas is such a large market for textbooks, publishers across the country ensure that their offerings will be acceptable to the SBOE. Thus the SBOE's actions directly impact science education everywhere.
Not only does science suffer when people are taught false and misleading information, so does religion. The meaning of our existence becomes narrowly defined as needing to believe that ancient narratives describe actual events.

Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis will be in Johnson City this coming week as part of the Origins Conference.

According to Mr. Ham, questions regarding the origins of the Universe, Earth, life on Earth, and homo sapiens have their "answers" in the Book of Genesis in the Bible. He is, of course, wrong.

There are no answers in Genesis. There are stories in Genesis. They are stories about what it means to be human. They have absolutely nothing to tell us about how the universe was formed (including our solar system), the formation of Earth, and the evolution of life on Earth including human beings. We go to science for those answers.

The Bible, including the Book of Genesis, contains fascinating stories. They are even more fascinating when we learn how and why the stories came to be. The first chapter of Genesis likely was written during the Babylonian captivity in the 6th century BCE. The six days of creation and the seventh day of rest is a poem and one of the key points of the poem is to encourage and explain why the Sabbath should be kept. Our resting on the seventh day is in keeping with the way God rested when God created the world. None of that is literal. It was a way in which these storytellers found meaning. It is a creative fiction, a myth.

The story of Adam and Eve is not historical reportage. It is another myth of coming of age and testing limits. If Eve had decided not to eat the fruit, the whole story ends. But she doesn't. She wants to know. She wants to see. That is what human beings do. Our quest, our curiosity, make us both unique and dangerous. We cannot be satisfied living in a gated garden. We live with the thorns. The story of Adam and Eve invites us to reflect on what it means to be human.

That is the point of religion and spirituality.

Creationism is neither science nor spirituality.

Finally, our cosmic and evolutionary story that we are uncovering through science is fantastic. It is an amazing story. We are related to all living things. Humanity has a special role in that we are the eyes, ears, and consciousness of the universe. We have the joy and the responsibility to tell the universe's story. We need our children to learn this fantastic story that is unfolding. They will have a part in uncovering more.

Evolutionary theory is not a threat to faith, except of course if one's faith is a rigid belief in things that aren't true. Evolutionary theory is foundational to human knowledge. As we learn it and reflect upon it, we can experience that highest expression of spirituality, the awe and wonder of the sacredness of life.

Here is the letter that I along with over 12,000 other clergy have signed.

Consider joining us for Evolution Sunday!

  1. Friends of Roan Mountain Winter Naturalist Rally on Saturday at 9:15 a.m. featuring presentations by Peter Weigl and Lisa Huff. Participants can choose from four different hikes in the afternoon.
  2. The Adult Forum at the church features Dr. Julie Wade, retired Biology Professor who taught at Milligan College for 24 years. She will present on the evolution of the human brain Sunday morning at 9:45.
  3. I will lead worship Sunday at 11 a.m. We will celebrate the 14 billion year creation story that science is showing us.
  4. The congregation will take a field trip to the Gray Fossil Site and Museum. We will have a brown bag lunch at church and carpool or meet at the Fossil Site at 2 p.m. Their special exhibit is “Building Triceratops.”
We have Sunday School for children at 9:45 and children's worship during church. They, too, will learn our awe-inspiring evolutionary story.

For resources for children, I recommend Connie Barlow's excellent web page. Also see The Great Story and Michael Dowd's webpage and book, Thank God for Evolution!


  1. But what IS the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Do a search: The First Scandal.

  2. Pastor Shuck writes,
    The story of Adam and Eve is not historical reportage. It is another myth of coming of age and testing limits.

    Hmmm... So I sin because something a mythological guy did in a story? I take it that when Jesus makes reference to Adam and Eve as being real people, and the creation being a real, historical event, he was either lying to us or horribly mistaken? Kind of makes me wonder what the point is in following that Jesus guy to begin with if that's the case.

  3. Really? Why are you wasting your time even talking about the Bible then?

  4. Fred, if that is your logic, then you are right, there is no point to it. Adam and Eve have to be as real as Barack and Michelle. If not, the whole system collapses like Easter Island.

    The Bible? Who needs it? If every thing didn't happen as written, to hell with it!

    The same for the Iliad, the Lotus Sutra, Shakespeare's plays, and Harry Potter. Why bother with any of it? Why bother reading at all?

    In the meantime, why even bother with me?

    Tell you what, I have learned that conversations with good folks like yourself almost always end up in the same place.

    You are welcome to stay and chat if you like, but so we all know where this will end, I will save you the trouble of arguing with me and send you to your likely conclusion.

  5. But John,
    Certainly I like to read, but I am not basing my worldview - my eternal salvation - upon Harry Potter or Twilight. The Bible makes some rather significant claims about itself, including, and most importantly, that it is the very Breath of the living God. Either it is what it claims to be: a divinely revealed historical document that tells how the living God interacted with His people and how He made away for sinners to be reconciled to Him through His Son, Jesus Christ; or it is just another book I guess we can chat about at the local coffee house book club.

    Obviously, you seem to have invested some interest in it over other literature, because you are a man of the cloth. But according to your blog and website, you deny the very thing it states by reinventing its message to fit your particular liberal bent. Why waste the time involving yourself with such pointless, intellectually dishonesty when you can just cut to the chase and live your life apart from the message of the Bible? It's just one of the weird conundrums I have never understood from ultra-liberal pseudo-Christianity.

  6. Thanks for the clarification.

    By the way, before we move on to our separate ways, one question for you.

    You're a big fan and supporter of gays and lesbians, at least I take that from your church's website. What evolutionary advantage does homosexual orientation confer to the propagation of the human race? Evolution is only purposeful if a species can transfer its genetics into the the next generation so as to make the group thrive. Speaking in the purest evolutionary terms, how do homosexuals do this? I have asked other liberals this question and they don't seem to have a meaningful answer. I go into more detail HERE.

  7. I LOVE when people who don't believe in evolution display their absolute and total ignorance of the entire theory by asking such stupid questions. As if an answer, any answer, would change their minds about anything.

    If anything makes me doubt the theory of evolution it is the abject stupidity of some trolls on the internet. That certainly isn't an evolutionary advantage, yet somehow we dragged ourselves from the muck and keep going in spite of having to carry their intellectual dead weight.

  8. Alan,

    Explain to me how I am ignorant of the theory. What exactly am I missing? I was immersed in evolutionary dogma for all 4 years of my high school education and 4 years of my college education. Are evolutionists that bad with communicating their system?

    Is not evolution about the transference of genetics to one generation to the next so a species can adapt and survive?

  9. Sounds intriguing.

    I think it's better not to make such discussions an "us vs them" match-up. Better to take scripture as a vaulted text of incredible importance and then say, "Ok: so we all want to honor it. The best way to do that is to truly get to its heart and understand all of its layers."

    Then, some disasembly required: why is the first creation account more important than the second? Was there yet another creation event where crocodiles were transformed from carrot-snarfing vegans into those dining at the local water-hole cafe? Light before the Sun? Plants before the sun? Why is each day a mini poem? Why does God name somethings but not others? Why is "God" plural? Who's "He" talking to?

    None of this aggressive questioning casts doubt on the text itself, only on one particular way of looking at that text. No other passage of scripture is subjected to such blind interpretation.

    The book, "The Lost World of Genesis" by John Walton is awesome. It finally produces a solution to what the first creation story is all about. I won't spoil it, cause people need to go read it. It will rock your intellectual world. (Hint: the "days" are neither 24-hrs nor long periods of time; in fact, they have to do with celebrating the world as the temple of Yaweh.)

    I always recommend this book anytime I can.

    From the corridor of weird: there is some archeological evidence that there once existed a man named A'dam who was a powerful founder/ruler of a pre-Sumerian civilization. (Cue Twilight Zone music.) So maybe the "Adam" of the Genesis text is loosely based on the existence of this real person.


    Sean Cordry, PhD

  10. To Fred:

    The Bible makes no such claims about being the breath of God. That would be a really bad interpretation of Paul's comments regarding the Old Testament.

    Challenge: The phrase "Word of God" -- what does it really mean? In my searching, it always refers to Christ and not to any written text.