Writer missed point of Evolution Sunday

In his recent opinion piece (“Churches shouldn’t buy into Darwinists’ ploys,” 1/29), Jonathan Wells attacks me, Evolution Sunday and evolutionary biology. His attack is far from the mark on all counts.

Since I only have limited space, and since virtually every major, professional scientific society in the world has issued statements in support of evolution, I’ll ignore his attack on science as simply misguided and idiosyncratic.

Let me set the record straight about me and Evolution Sunday, however. And let me assert that Wells’ “scholarship” in this area is so poor that it can’t help but call into question his competence in other areas, or the underlying motives for his attacks.

Wells is correct that the idea for Evolution Sunday originated with me. Trivially, however, he is incorrect when he says that I am a “University of Wisconsin evolutionary biologist.” I am the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and professor of biology at Butler University in Indianapolis, and I have been here for over seven months, having moved from the University of Wisconsin in June.

More significantly, however, he says that I created Evolution Sunday in response to the following policy adopted by the school board of Grantsburg, Wisc.: “Students are expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information. Students shall be able to explain the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory. This policy does not call for the teaching of Creationism or Intelligent Design.”

Absolutely untrue!

Wells goes on to say that “Zimmerman called the policy a decision “to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance.”

Ridiculous!

The fact of the matter is that the policy quoted above was what the Grantsburg, Wis., school board adopted after many of us attacked their original policy and brought worldwide attention to their creationist agenda. Those of us who fought the school board declared victory after their creationist policy was jettisoned and this new one was adopted. My only concern with the policy that was adopted was that it seemed to set an awfully ambitious agenda for middle and high school students.

But for Wells to claim that I opposed the policy whose passage I celebrated, and then to assert that I opposed “analyzing Darwinism’s strengths and weaknesses,” is laughable.

He also completely misses the point of Evolution Sunday. He asserts that “it is not evolution in general, but Darwin’s particular theory (Darwinism) that Evolution Sunday celebrates.” The term “Darwinism” has never appeared on any material associated with Evolution Sunday. Indeed, “Darwinism” is a term that is almost exclusively used by creationists to attack evolution. The modern concept of evolution has evolved to an enormous extent since Charles Darwin first published “On the Origin of Species” that it simply makes no sense to talk of Darwinism, except in a historical setting.

Beyond that, however, the purposes of Evolution Sunday have been absolutely clear from the outset. The event is designed to provide an opportunity for congregations around the world to discuss the compatibility of religion and science, to investigate why religion and modern science need not be at war with one another. The event is designed to demonstrate that those shrill fundamentalist voices that assert that people must choose between religion and science are simply incorrect, that they are presenting a false dichotomy, that no such choice needs to be made. Indeed, one of the purposes of Evolution Sunday is to help elevate the nature of the debate on this topic from those who simply shout, “Accept evolution and you’ll go to hell.” Finally, one of the purposes of Evolution Sunday is to bring attention to the Clergy Letter, a letter signed by more than 10,500 Christian clergy members. This letter makes it clear that thousands upon thousands of Christian clergy members have no problem embracing their faith as well as evolution.

But don’t just take my word for Wells’ lapses. Go to the Evolution Sunday Web site and read the original documents for yourself. It’s too bad that Wells apparently didn’t bother to do that.

Michael Zimmerman is the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and professor of biology at Butler University. He is the founder of the Clergy Letter Project, which is the sponsor of Evolution Sunday.

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