June 2015 Newsletter

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

  1. Evolution Weekend 2016;;
  2. Astrobiology News for June 2015:  Bringing Science and Religion Dialogue to Sunday School;
  3. National Center for Science Education’s Clergy Climate Letter;
  4. Fellowship Opportunity to Bridge Science and Religion;
  5. Westar Institute Inaugurates Award for Public Religious Literacy;
  6. John Glenn’s Take on Evolution; and
  7. Resolution to Tom Oord's Situation.

1. Evolution Weekend 2016

I’m tickled to say that we’re starting the second decade of Evolution Weekend events – events that have already reached more than three-quarters of a million people in congregations and many more than that via media reports of our activities. When we began this effort, I doubt that anyone, especially me, could have imagined the impact we’ve had. But there is more to be done! The dates for our 11th annual celebration have been set as 12 – 14 February 2016 and I hope many of you are ready to save that date on your calendars. If you’re ready to commit now, please let me know and I’ll add you to our early list of participants for 2016. By signing up now, you will be helping out enormously. Even at this early date, we have representatives from 15 states and five countries on board. Please join them!

_____ YES, I plan to participate in Evolution Weekend 2016. Please add me to the list!

Your name:

Thanks very much for thinking well ahead.


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2. Astrobiology News for June 2015:  Bringing Science and Religion Dialogue to Sunday School

In this month’s Astrobiology News, Clergy Letter Project consultant and Adler Planetarium astronomer Grace Wolf-Chase shares two pieces of exciting news. First, CASIRAS, the Center for Advanced in Religion and Science, has agreed to cover the cost associated with mailing The Clergy Letter Project’s monthly newsletter. Please join me in thanking both Grace and the leadership of CASIRAS for this wonderful gift. Second, she discusses a new science and faith curriculum which readers will be sure to find fascinating.

Finally, I want to say that I’ve added a new section to The Clergy Letter Project’s web presence. If you look at the left navigation bar, you’ll now find a link to the Astrobiology News Archive. The Archive lists all of the fabulous columns Grace has written for The Clergy Letter Project Newsletter.

In the coming months, you’ll hear more from me about two remarkable NASA missions: New Horizons’ encounter with Pluto (in July) and Dawn’s adjustment to a closer orbit of dwarf planet Ceres (in August), but this month I wanted to deviate from my typical posts to let you know about a curriculum that has been developed to bring science and religion content to the religious education of youth. This project is sponsored by the Center for Advanced Study in Religion and Science (CASIRAS)(1), which was founded in 1965 by Ralph Wendell Burhoe, a pioneer in science and religion dialogue. CASIRAS supports the Zygon Center for Religion and Science(2) (in partnership with the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago(3)) and co-publishes Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science(4) (in partnership with the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science(5)). CASIRAS has also graciously offered to fund costs for emailing The Clergy Letter Project’s monthly newsletter for the coming year!

Ms. Kim Eighmy(6), a Christian Educator who has served as an Associate in Ministry within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), has developed a six-part Science and Faith curriculum(7) designed to encourage discussions between adult religious leaders, adolescents and their parents on important topics at the intersection of faith and science. Although this curriculum has been developed for the ELCA, I suspect it can be adapted to serve a spectrum of Christian denominations, and quite possibly suggest useful approaches for other religious traditions. The goals of this inquiry-based methodology are: to incorporate scientific understanding into a theological worldview; to engage in open and informed dialogue in matters of religion and science; and to gain awareness of the impact of both scientific and theological perspectives as they apply to decision making in both private and public realms. Although the web site is a work-in-progress, the curriculum is basically “good to go” and Kim encourages people potentially interested in using it to check it out! In the coming months, I’ll be working with Kim to develop a series of introductory videos, which will introduce the content of each session and set the stage for discussing the issues.

Many people, not just youth, have a difficult time reconciling what they hear in church and what they hear in the science classroom. I am very excited about the prospects of this new curriculum to help adolescents and their parents form conceptual bridges between their scientific and religious understandings of the Cosmos! I doubt I need to convince anyone on this newsletter distribution list how vitally important it is that science and religion work together to address the many challenges that face us in the 21st century.

Until next month,


Grace Wolf-Chase, Ph.D. (gwolfchase@adlerplanetarium.org)

1. www.casiras.org

2. http://zygoncenter.org/

3. http://www.lstc.edu/

4. http://www.zygonjournal.org/

5. http://www.iras.org/

6. Preferred contact: growlover94@gmail.com; also, faithintersections@gmail.com

7. http://www.faithintersections.com/


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3. National Center for Science Education’s Clergy Climate Letter

As you’ll see from the note below from Josh Rosenau, Programs and Policy Director at the National Center for Science Education, NCSE is encouraging clergy members to sign on to their effort to raise awareness about climate change. As you likely already know, and as Josh points out, the link between the goals of The Clergy Letter Project and the Clergy Climate Letter are very real. If you have any doubts about the magnitude of this relationship, I encourage you to take a look at this recent piece that appeared in The Washington Post summarizing some of Josh’s research demonstrating a link between doubt in evolution and doubt about climate change.

The Clergy Climate Letter list of signers is growing rapidly, and invites signatures from Clergy Letter Project members: http://clergyclimate.org/. On June 11, the National Center for Science Education (which hosts the project) announced that there were over 100 members of the clergy who had signed on to the affirmation that climate change is real, that it poses a moral and ethical challenge, and that the necessary response must come from the leaders of religious and ethical communities. Like the pro-evolution Clergy Letter, the Clergy Climate Letter emphasizes that science and religion need not be in conflict, and criticizes efforts to obscure or deny the science.

The letter is all the more important in light of the papal encyclical Laudato Si’, which has sparked substantial public debate about the relationship of science and religion and the role of religious leaders in discussions about climate change and climate policy. Reporters have come to the Clergy Climate Letter looking for local perspective on these global conversations, as have laypeople seeking guidance on how to understand climate change in light of their own religious beliefs. Signing the Clergy Climate Letter invites those personal conversations.

It also emphasizes that concern for the climate cuts across denominational boundaries. Signers represent a wide range of religious and philosophical traditions. And the letter creates opportunities for a different sort of conversation about climate change locally, nationally, and globally. Just as The Clergy Letter Project undercuts efforts to portray evolution and religion as necessary foes, the Clergy Climate Letter emphasizes that religion can inform discussions about scientific policymaking, and that a theology of stewardship is as viable and widespread as the theology of dominion which sometimes fuels anti-environmental efforts.

We hope that you will consider adding your name to the Clergy Climate Letter, and taking part in the important conversations ahead.

Josh Rosenau


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4. Fellowship Opportunity to Bridge Science and Religion

Sinai and Synapses is an organization for which I am on the Advisory Board, and it aims to bridge the religious and scientific worlds. They are currently accepting applications for a two-year Fellowship for clergy, scientists and journalists to learn from experts in the field and then create content and programs in their own communities. Below I’ve shared information about the program and you can see more at http://sinaiandsynapses.org/sinai-and-synapses-fellowship/.

Do you want to learn from some of the top scientists, theologians and thinkers in the world?

Do you want to meet and network with a diverse and yet intimate group of scientists, clergy and bloggers who will inspire you and challenge you?

Do you want to gain new tools and new language to help people find meaning and value in both religion and science?

If so, apply here for the 2015-2017 Sinai and Synapses Fellowship!

What is it? The Sinai and Synapses Fellowship is a small interfaith group of clergy, scientists and bloggers who are committed to elevating the discourse surrounding religion and science.

How do we do that? By personalizing the relationship around religion and science. The Fellows are models for a productive conversation surrounding religion and science: they are dedicated to exploring their own stories, their own commitments and their own doubts — and are dedicated to learning about and from other people’s journeys, as well. Indeed, our previous fellows have included rabbis, an Episcopal priest, a Baha’i bio-technician and a dedicated agnostic.

The Fellowship is designed to encourage curiosity, cross-pollination, and the creation of new questions to explore. Every Fellow is someone who has an interest in both science and religion, as well as a professional/academic background in one or the other. The Fellows then engage their communities and create meaningful content (such as our discussion forum or our "More Light, Less Heat" series) and programs, helping people discover that science and religion are not simply ideas, but involve real concerns that affect real people’s lives.


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5. Westar Institute Inaugurates Award for Public Religious Literacy

Our good friends at the Westar Institute have just created an award for Public Religious Literacy and have encouraged me to share the call for nominations with you. I suspect that many of you know individuals who would be fabulous candidates for the award. Here’s the information Westar sent:

In a move that embodies our conviction that knowledge about religion is essential to healthy public discourse, Westar is inaugurating a new award to honor members of the public who demonstrate an outstanding commitment to fostering religious literacy.

The new Advocate for Public Religious Literacy (APRL) award seeks to recognize the courage, commitment, and contributions of people who cultivate thoughtful discussion and disseminate learning about religion in their communities. Westar invites nominations at this time.

                        More Information | Westar Awards | Submit a Nomination


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6. John Glenn’s Take on Evolution

A recent Associated Press story presented John Glenn’s take on evolution. His perspective is fully consonant with that of The Clergy Letter Project. The interview notes that Glenn indicated that “he sees no contradiction between believing in God and believing in evolution.”


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7. Resolution to Tom Oord's Situation

In the last two newsletters, I shared information about Reverend Tom Oord, Clergy Letter Project member and member of the faculty at Northwest Nazarene University. He was scheduled to be laid off from his tenured position at the school because of his stance on evolution. In response to this administrative decision, the faculty took a vote of no confidence in the university’s president, who subsequently resigned.

The university has now reached an agreement with Tom to allow him to teach one more year, full time, and two additional years part time. While this is hardly a felicitous arrangement, both for Tom and for academic freedom, it is a far better resolution than separating Tom from the university immediately would have been. You can read more about the resolution in this article in Inside Higher Ed. With this agreement in place, Tom has now issued a public statement about the situation. I trust you’ll find his statement as powerful and as moving as I did. I also hope you’ll join me in wishing Tom the very best of luck in the future.


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With so many candidates recently officially declaring their desire to serve as president of the United States, we’ve clearly entered campaign season. It’s well worth noting that virtually all of the Republican candidates have declared their doubts about evolution – most on religious grounds. The fact that their religious statements are not congruent with the basic teachings of their religions doesn’t seem to bother any one of them at all! We have much work to do if we are to continue to remind people that they don’t have to choose between modern science and religion. Please share this newsletter with colleagues who might be interested and please encourage them to join our efforts by signing one of our Clergy Letters, by adding their names to our list of scientific consultants, or simply by asking to be on our mailing list. Thank you for your continued support. Together we are making a difference.


Michael Zimmerman
Founder and Executive Director
The Clergy Letter Project