National Center for Science Education
Defending the Teaching of Evolution in the Public Schools, May 21, 2008
At its General Conference held in Fort Worth, TX, from April 22 to May 2, 2008, the United Methodist Church adopted three resolutions relevant to the teaching of evolution in the public schools. First, and most directly concerned with education, the UMC expressed its opposition to “the introduction of any faith-based theories such as Creationism or Intelligent Design into the science curriculum of our public schools,” noting that “the United Methodist Church has for many years supported the separation of church and [s]tate” and that “[t]he promotion of religion or any particular religion in the public schools is contrary to the First Amendment.”
Second, in the course of a statement on science and technology, the UMC affirmed, “We find that science’s descriptions of cosmological, geological, and biological evolution are not in conflict with theology…. We find that as science expands human understanding of the natural world, our understanding of the mysteries of God’s creation and Word are enhanced.” And third, the UMC revised its resolution on “God’s Creation and the Church,” to endorse the Clergy Letter Project (founded by Michael Zimmerman) and “its reconciliatory programs between religion and science,” in which it urged its clergy to participate.
The text of the resolutions — 80839, 80050, and 80990, respectively — is available by using the Legislation Tracking feature of the UMC’s website for the General Convention. The UMC’s General Conference is the denomination’s top policy-making body, which periodically revises church law and the “Social Principles” (related to a wide range of social and economic concerns) and adopts resolutions on various current moral, social, public policy, and economic issues. With over eight million members in the United States served by over forty-five thousand ministers, the United Methodist Church is the third largest religious denomination in the United States.
It’s no mistake that I was raised United Methodist. We were taught the interpretation of Genesis was allegorical, not literal, in nature, and, consequently, there was no real “clash” with evolution. To a United Methodist, science is merely the discovery of God’s creation, not the enemy of it. Since the term “day” was invented by man and man, himself, has changed in its meaning over time (day used to be the time from sunrise to sunset; now it is a 24-hour period that includes the traditional day and night), it seems folly to impose man’s literal interpretation of Genesis upon a superintelligent God, which is exactly what literalists are doing. Darwin’s theory of how the world began and “The Big Bang” theory are only scientific ways of explaining how God created the universe to a United Methodist.
“In physical cosmology, the Big Bang is the scientific theory of how the universe emerged from a tremendously dense and hot state about 13.7 billion years ago. The Big Bang theory is based on the observed Hubble’s law (expanding universe, which solved Einstein’s Theory of Relativity): redshift (the light from distant stars and distant galaxies) of distant galaxies that when taken together with the cosmological principle indicate that space is expanding according to the Friedmann-Lemaitre model of general relativity. Extrapolated into the past, these observations show that the universe has expanded from a state in which all the matter and energy in the universe was at an immense temperature and density. Physicists do not widely agree on what happened before this, although general relativity predicts a gravitational singularity.” (http://www.crystalinks.com/bigbang.html)
Likewise, the concept that God’s “days” could last eons or literally billions of years would not be illogical, given that He is supposed to be infinite. How irrelevant is time to an infinite being? Only man is concerned with measuring time, because for man time is finite.
The recent release of the sequel to The Da Vinci Code, called Angels and Demons, broaches the subject of “the God particle” and the Large Hedron Collider:
“…a particle accelerator-an atomic peashooter more powerful than any ever built. It’s called the Large Hadron Collider, and its purpose is simple but ambitious: to crack the code of the physical world; to figure out what the universe is made of; in other words, to get to the very bottom of things….
Physics underwent one revolution after another. Einstein’s special theory of relativity (1905) begat the general theory of relativity (1915), and suddenly even such reliable concepts as absolute space and absolute time had been discarded in favor of a mind-boggling space-time fabric in which two events can never be said to be simultaneous. Matter bends space; space directs how matter moves. Light is both a particle and a wave. Energy and mass are inter- changeable. Reality is probabilistic and not deterministic: Einstein didn’t believe that God plays dice with the universe, but that became the scientific orthodoxy.” (http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/03/god-particle/achenbach-text)
Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was flawed because he assumed that the universe was static – neither growing or shrinking. When Hubble (the guy the telescope is named for) discovered clear evidence that the universe was expanding, it became clear that Einstein’s assumption was wrong.
The bigger issue here is the political one. There has been a systematic attack on science by the so-called Christian Right against science, this being only one of the areas of contention. The administration of GWB has declared a war on science within his administration, allowing political editing of scientific documents.
Andrew C. Revkin, “Bush Aide Softened Greenhouse Gas Links to Global Warming”, NYT, June 8, 2005, (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/08/politics/08climate.html?ex=1275883200&en=22149dd80c073dd8&ei=5089).
Dan Vergano, “Science vs. politics gets down and dirty“, USA Today, Updated 8/7/2007, (http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/2007-08-05-science-politics_N.htm).
Council on Foreign Relations, December 2007 (http://www.cfr.org/publication/15079/political_interference_with_climate_change_science_under_the_bush_administration_december_2007.html). Full report: United States House of Representatives: Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, December 2007 (http://oversight.house.gov/documents/20071210101633.pdf).
Written Testimony of Francesca T. Grifo, Ph.D., Senior Scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists; Director of the Scientific Integrity Program, Before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works: Subcommittee on Public Sector Solutions to Global Warming, Oversight, and Children’s Health Protection, “Oversight Hearing on Science and Environmental Regulatory Decisions”, May 7, 2008 (http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/scientific_integrity/Written-Testimony-for-5-7-08-EPW-Hearing.pdf).
Daniel Smith, “Political Science”, NYT, September 4, 2005 (http://www.cspo.org/Political_Science.html).
And there are many more articles like these. We know what the agenda of the Christian Right is: they believe that science usurps their beliefs and decays their children’s thinking (a sad statement on religion in our country, I must add). But what was the Bush agenda in his war on science?
I submit that it is the need to control information. Much like the Roman Catholic Church during the times of Galileo (when they tortured him to make him recant about discovering a new planet), Bush, the evangelical champion, appointed himself Keeper of the Truth. That is, the “truth” according to Bush. This is one of the most powerful tactics used by Karl Rove on behalf of Bush in controlling the political message by obfuscation.
So, what do we do?
Well, we need to take action, and fast. As is evident in the article I quoted here, if Texas is able to muddy the line between religion and science in the classroom, textbook editors will soon follow. Their agenda is to sell textbooks.
And the agenda of all freedom-loving people should be to preserve the separation of Church and State, which is a concept borne of religious tyranny. We cannot allow this Creationist movement to poison the minds of our young people for generations to come with regard to science and the importance of objectively seeking the truth.