December 2014 Newsletter

In this Clergy Letter Project update, you’ll find the following four items:

  1. Evolution Weekend 2015: Past, Present and Future;
  2. Astrobiology News for December 2014: 2014 Highlights from Zooniverse:  Research with One Million Citizen Scientists
  3. A Free Book to Help Prepare for Evolution Weekend 2015; and
  4. A Great Video about “The Facts”.

1. Evolution Weekend 2015: Past, Present and Future

Given that this is the 10th anniversary year of Evolution Weekend, it seems fitting for this year’s theme to focus on the past, the present and the future of the interactions between religion and science. Over these past 10 years, Clergy Letter Project members have reached upwards of three-quarters of a million people during Evolution Weekend events. Most importantly, we’ve consistently raised the quality of the discussion about this important topic, we’ve made it clear that people need not choose between religion and science, and we’ve repeatedly called for respect for those who think differently than we do.

Additionally, we’ve recognized that the supposed historical war between religion and science is largely a manufactured construct rather than a real battle. Historians have shown us that scientists and religious leaders were more often working in concert than at odds with one another. Those promoting a worldview that requires people to make a choice between their faith and science have been doing so for narrow sectarian reasons; the vast majority of religious individuals need not make such a choice. Indeed, there’s nothing in their faith that precludes a full acceptance of the best that science has to offer.

As you celebrate Evolution Weekend 2015, think about the world you want to leave to future generations. Is it one in which scientific understanding advances religious faith or is it one in which scientific knowledge must be suppressed?

As has been the case with every Evolution Weekend celebration, you can focus on this theme if it suits your congregation or you may do anything else that makes sense for your parishioners – as long as it improves our understanding of the relationship between religion and science. And, as always, you can celebrate Evolution Weekend on this particular weekend (13-15 February 2015) or you may do so at another time that is more convenient for your congregation.

Whatever you do and whenever you do it, please sign up now!

_____ YES! Please add me to the list of those participating in Evolution Weekend 2015 (13-15 February 2015).

City and State (Country, if not USA):
Your name:

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2.  Astrobiology News for December 2014: 2014: 2014 Highlights from Zooniverse:  Research with One Million Citizen Scientist

In this month’s Astrobiology News, Clergy Letter Project consultant and Adler Planetarium astronomer Grace Wolf-Chase shows how citizens can and have participated in creating new scientific knowledge. As you’ll see, she’s at the cutting edge of exciting work of this sort.

In the multi-disciplinary spirit of astrobiology, this month we’ll look at Zooniverse, a suite of online citizen science initiatives, which currently number over two-dozen projects in space science, climate, nature, biology, physics and the humanities. (1) Through the Zooniverse website, people from all walks of life around the world (citizen scientists) contribute to cutting-edge scientific research – no special skills are necessary. You can go to the website right now and create yourself a user account if you don’t already have one. Curiosity is strongly encouraged, but even if you think you don’t possess an ample supply, you might surprise yourself once you start to participate! Since Zooniverse crossed the threshold of 1 million citizen scientist volunteers in 2014, it seems appropriate to end the year with a few highlights.

As diverse as they are, Zooniverse projects share one thing in common – they need the participation of large numbers of people using their eyes or ears to mine data in ways that are beyond the present capabilities of computers. Citizen scientists engage in diverse tasks such as transcribing weather data from ships at sea between 1850 and 1950 to help scientists studying climate, classifying cell images to contribute to cancer research, or examining ancient Greek texts in the Oxyrhynchus collection, to name just a few activities. To date, Zooniverse projects have resulted in over 70 peer-reviewed scientific publications. (2) Participants are collectively acknowledged in these publications and a few have even achieved co-authorship for critical new discoveries, such as the “green peas,” Hanny’s Voorwerp, and the first exoplanet in a quadruple star system. (3) Check out my blog on the Milky Way Project “yellowballs,” a new class of objects identified by citizen scientists. (4) Earlier this month, The Astrophysical Journal accepted the paper that was based on our research into the nature of these objects.

In other news, we are preparing for “Clergy Day” on Tuesday, Feb. 10th 2015, when clergy and lay leaders will receive free admission and shows at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, and have opportunities for discussion and Q&A with scientists. We intend this to be an annual event, scheduled shortly before Evolution Weekend, to inspire and provide materials for reflection so those able to attend can share their experiences with their congregations. Like the philosophy that motivated creating Zooniverse, we believe that science is for everyone, and we are committed to providing a welcoming, inclusive climate to all. If you live near Chicago, please consider visiting us!

Wishing you all a happy & healthy 2015.

Grace Wolf-Chase, Ph.D. (



3. See the Galaxy Zoo and Planethunters projects



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3. A Free Book to Help Prepare for Evolution Weekend 2015

As I announced a couple of months ago, two good friends of The Clergy Letter Project, Thomas McFaul and Al Brunsting, recently had an exciting new book released by Wipf and Stock. The book is entitled God Is Here to Stay: Science, Evolution, and Belief in God, and, as the cover indicates, they “approach the question of God’s existence from an entirely fresh perspective.” They go on to “show how science, evolution, and belief in God have become increasingly integrated and mutually supportive.”

The book has been widely and positively endorsed. For instance, Owen Gingerich, Emeritus Professor of Astronomy and History of Science at Harvard, has said, “The authors take an unusual approach in ranking the probabilities of various arguments being convincing for the existence of God.” Francisco Ayala, 2010 Templeton Prize winner and Professor of Biology at University of California, Irvine, noted that “The manuscript is well written and well argued; surely it will be an important addition to the God-and-science literature.” And Gordon Leidner, author of Of God and Dice, enthused that “This book includes some of the hottest topics in science today, such as the relationship of the brain to spirituality, how inanimate matter became life, and the evolution of conscious, self-aware life.”

If you want to learn more about the book and its underlying premise, take a look at two videos featuring Tom McFaul. The first briefly summarizes the contents of the book while the second consists of Tom’s conversation with Dr. Alyce McKenzie, Professor of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology.

Given the book’s focus, I can well imagine it helping many of you prepare for Evolution Weekend 2015. And I can imagine some of you creating a book group within your congregation to read and discuss the text. To help facilitate these activities, the publisher generously donated free copies for Clergy Letter Project members who feel that the book might be of use to them for Evolution Weekend 2015. Although all free copies were accounted for when I originally offered them to members, not all of them have been claimed. Therefore, I’ll award a free copy to every fourth person who requests one now, until all copies are claimed.

_____ Yes, I would like a free copy of Thomas McFaul and Al Brunsting’s book God is Here to Stay: Science, Evolution, and Belief in God. If I’m awarded a free copy, I agree to pay $5 for postage and handling.

      _____ Please add me to the list of those participating in Evolution Weekend 2015 (13-15 February 2015).

City and State (Country, if not USA):
Your name:

      _____ My congregation is already listed as participating in Evolution Weekend 2015.      

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4.  A Great Video about “The Facts”

Clergy Letter Project member Gary Sherman brought a wonderful (and short) video to my attention that I thought you’d love to see. Gary explained things better than I could: “For a delightful yet serious warning on how science is so often ignored, you can enjoy 5 minutes of visual and musical effects (‘What do the facts say?’). You are guaranteed to smile (and perhaps cringe a bit at the promiscuity of pseudo-science ideas fostered by those for whom ideology and dogma so easily trump facts and data). The video was developed by Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam (UC-Davis). Alison is an accomplished agricultural researcher and extension educator who works to educate society at all levels with an impressive communications toolkit.”


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As 2014 comes to a close, I want to thank you for your support this past year. Although we still have a great deal to do, we have accomplished much over the last 12 months. Even as we continue to make progress, and even as we reach more people on a daily basis, we shouldn’t forget that there are those who want to continue to pit religion against science. Please share this note with friends and colleagues who might be interested in joining our efforts and, if you haven’t yet done so, please sign up to participate in Evolution Weekend 2015. Together we are making a difference.


Michael Zimmerman
Founder and Executive Director
The Clergy Letter Project