Monday, February 16, 2009

Faith in evolution

With the 200th birthday of Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species, evolution is all over the news. Many of the articles I see seem to be about religion and evolution and how the two do or do not mix.

In particular, The Lead, a kind of round-up of religious news from an Episcopalian perspective, has posted four articles over the weekend about either evolution, Darwin, or reconciling religion and science. Of course, since Darwin's 200th birthday was last Thursday, that does make some sense. But still!

One of the most amazing to me was the report on a Gallup poll that "shows that only 39% of Americans say they "believe in the theory of evolution," while a quarter say they do not believe in the theory, and another 36% don't have an opinion either way. These attitudes are strongly related to education and, to an even greater degree, religiosity." Only 4 out of 10 American think evolution is real? And 36 percent DON'T HAVE AN OPINION?!

One of the things I found most intriguing in this, though, is that it's presented as "belief in." Because over the weekend, among the many articles I read or heard on the radio, I realized that I needed to have faith in evolution. I have faith in scientific evidence, in data, in the slow steady accumulation of knowledge, in the notion that scientists have nothing to gain from pulling a fast one on the general public. I don't know if I believe in evolution, but I accept it, based on my limited knowledge of the case. I realized that it does take a degree of trust in order to have faith in evolution. I'm not particularly more knowledgeable than those who don't accept evolution; I just have a different trust level - both in science and scientific theory, and in my religious faith's place in the face of it.

Which brings me to the second article that caught my eye, a beautiful piece from the Religious News Service which interviews Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori about her own scientific background.

Some favorite bits:

Jefferts Schori said her scientific training, not her gender, is more unique and pertinent to her current job.

“It’s been a long time since somebody trained in the way I have been has held an office in the church like this,” she said. “My way of looking at the world is shaped by my training as a scientist—to look carefully, and collect data and make hypotheses.”
“I think most of us are comfortable with our ways of seeing the world,” she said. “And if one lens works most of the time, why bother with a second one? It makes life harder in some sense because you have to wrestle with bigger questions.”
Jefferts Schori sometimes jokes that she’s still a “recovering scientist.” “I’m recovering in the sense of being somebody who grew up with a worldview that said science and religion are separate fields that couldn’t and shouldn’t talk to each other,” she said.

But now she says science and faith are now intimately entwined, partners in teaching the consequences of human action and the connections between all God’s creatures.

If you're interested, take a look at the whole thing. It's quite wonderful.

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