What will be the focus of attention in your church this Sunday? For many liberal churches and synagogues, Charles Darwin will have his day of glory in services this weekend. Sunday February 12, Darwin's birthday, is the centerpiece of the 2012 "Evolution Weekend" event invented by The Clergy Letter Project.
Here is how the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), the leading Darwin-only educational advocacy organization, advertises the annual "Evolution Weekend" and it host organization, The Clergy Letter Project:
The brainchild of Michael Zimmerman, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Butler University, the Clergy Letter Project was founded in 2004; its activities include a similar letter for Christian clergy, currently endorsed by over 11,000 members [now 13,000] of the clergy across the country and around the world; a pool of scientists willing to work with clergy on promoting scientific literacy; a collection of sermons, articles, readings, and websites relevant to the Clergy Letter Project's goals; and Evolution Weekend (formerly Evolution Sunday), in which religious leaders are encouraged to discuss the compatibility of faith and science in their sermons, Sabbath or Sunday schools, and discussion groups, on or about Darwin's birthday....
The Darwinists at the NCSE are delighted to have 13,000 clergy preaching a Darwin-friendly faith. Although Eugenie Scott, NCSE's Executive Director was awarded the American Humanist Association's 1998 Isaac Asimov Science Award, she has done her best to appear religiously neutral. To help break down resistance to accepting Darwinism in public schools, Dr. Scott advocates sending students out to "interview their pastors and priests about evolution" (provided that "conservative Christian" viewpoints don't dominate that particular community, in which case she does not recommend this approach). The NCSE hopes to increase the number of Darwin-friendly places of weekend worship, and thus promotes The Clergy Letter Project and its "Evolution Weekend."
How can we best understand and think critically about "theistic evolution"? According to the influential news magazine World (published by God's World Publications), the two best books of the year 2011 deliver successful scientific and theological critiques of theistic evolution: (1) God and Evolution: Protestants, Catholics, and Jews Explore Darwin's Challenge to Faith edited by philosopher Jay Richards and (2) Should Christians Embrace Evolution? edited by leading British medical geneticist Dr. Norman Nevin. World recognizes the debate over evolution in churches and religious colleges as the "biggest current battle both among Christians and between Christian and anti-Christian thought."
Interestingly World's 2008 Book of the Year, Tim Keller's The Reason for God, states on page 94: "For the record I think God guided some process of natural selection, and yet I reject the concept of evolution as an All-encompassing Theory." Note how one of World's two 2011 Books of the Year (God and Evolution) responds to this statement by the highly regarded evangelical pastor Tim Keller. God and Evolution editor Jay Richards argues on pages 23-25 of his introduction (which you may download for free here) that Keller's distinction between evolution as a hypothesis and evolution as a "worldview of the way things are" doesn't offer much guidance. This is "a vague distinction without a difference," Richards observes.
I am not intending to pick on Keller, whose work I hold in high regard. I am using him to illustrate how confusing this issue can be, and how even smart, orthodox religious thinkers often get into a muddle when they try to wed their Christian beliefs with Darwinian evolutionary theory.
If we peel away these confusions and look for a straightforward, coherent position, however, we usually end up with the idea of God-guided common ancestry. This is probably what most people would think theistic evolution means. But they would be wrong, at least when it comes to describing the views of many who describe themselves as theistic evolutionists. These days most theistic evolutionists seek, somehow, to reconcile theism with Darwinian evolution. They may affirm design in some broad sense at the cosmic level, but things get patchy when it comes to biology. Though it's not always easy to understand what they're saying, many theistic evolutionists want to integrate the blind watchmaker thesis into their theology. Now that would be quite a trick to pull off.
So, even a few conservative evangelical leaders are a bit confused about Darwinian evolution. Although Keller's The Reason for God is among the best general Christian apologetics books, it is notably weak in its treatment of evolution.
If you are in New York City this weekend you might want to visit Tim Keller's Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA). The February 12th sermon has nothing to do with Darwin: Sermon Title, "The Incarnation" (Mathew 1:18-25). You might need to find a liberal Christian or Unitarian church if you want to hear a Darwin sermon this Sunday. If you really want to think critically about theistic evolution (rather then prematurely celebrate Darwin in a "place of worship"), go here for the most up-to-date resources.