October 2014 Newsletter

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

  1. A Free Book to Help Prepare for Evolution Weekend 2015;
  2. Astrobiology News for October 2014: Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?;
  3. A Free Opportunity at the Adler Planetarium; and
  4. Pope Endorses The Clergy Letter Project.

1. Free Book to Help Prepare for Evolution Weekend 2015

Back in July, I announced that Clergy Letter Project member Reverend Russell Ruffino recently published a book entitled Riding the Crest of the Waves. Publicity material for the book notes that “The book hopes to encourage people, Christians in particular, to think, and to question that which surrounds and challenges them in a changing world increasingly dominated by science and technology.” Russ, himself, argues that “Christians have to embrace and celebrate the challenge of science and technology, and what faith and science together can contribute to our understanding of God’s creation, and particularly to our understanding of the earth, our island home.” Russ has been an active participant in Evolution Weekend for many years and thus many of you might find his text of particular interest as you think about how you want to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Evolution Weekend this coming February (13-15 February 2015).

Russ has very generously donated a number of copies of his book for me to distribute to Clergy Letter Project members who think it might help them prepare for Evolution Weekend 2015. Because some of you who won free copies didn’t claim them, I still have a number left. If you would like a free copy, please let me know by returning the form below to me. I’ll award a free copy to every fourth person who requests one, until all free copies have been claimed. If you’re not one of the lucky group who is awarded a free copy, you can order your own copy at Amazon.com.

_____ Yes, I would like a free copy of Russell Ruffino’s book Riding the Crest of the Waves. 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.

Whether you want a copy of Russ’s book or not, please sign up for Evolution Weekend now!


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2.  Astrobiology News for October 2014: Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?

In this month’s Astrobiology News, Clergy Letter Project consultant and Adler Planetarium astronomer Grace Wolf-Chase discusses Brother Guy Consomagno’s upcoming reading and book signing at the Adler Planetarium.

For those of you who live in the Chicago area, I hope you can come to the Adler Planetarium on the evening of November 18th to hear how Brother Guy Consolmagno of the Vatican Observatory answers this question!  Br. Guy will also sign copies of his new book by the same title (coauthored with Father Paul Mueller).  Copies of the book will be available for purchase.  We expect this to be a very popular event, so please check Adler’s web site to purchase tickets: (http://www.adlerplanetarium.org/events/astronomy-lecture-book-signing).

NOTE: For those of you who don’t live in the Chicago area or who can’t attend for other reasons, you can catch this presentation as we live-stream it on Adler’s YouTube channel, or in the archives afterwards: https://www.youtube.com/user/adlerplanetarium.

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?
Presented by Br. Guy Consolmagno
Astronomer, Vatican Observatory

Tuesday, November 18, 2015, 7 pm
Samuel C. Johnson Family Star Theater
Adler Planetarium

$10 General Admission
$5 Members and Students

This frequently asked question raises interesting issues not only for what it means to be a creature of this universe in need of baptism, but the larger question of when it is appropriate, or not, to “baptize” modern science and its understanding of our universe in the light of our religious beliefs.  What assumptions are hidden or unrecognized in this question, especially about the significance of ourselves and our belief systems in the face of an overwhelmingly large universe?  What can we learn from how explorers in the 15th-17th centuries dealt with the discovery of other civilizations, as a possible analog to the issues that might be raised in such a discovery in space?  And how can this question be re-framed to better illuminate its hidden assumptions and motivate our search for extraterrestrial intelligence?

Br. Consolmagno is curator of the Vatican meteorite collection in Castel Gandolfo, one of the largest in the world.  His research explores the connections between meteorites and asteroids, and the origin and evolution of small bodies in the solar system.  In 1996, he spent six weeks collecting meteorites with an NSF-sponsored team on the blue ice of Antarctica, and in 2000 he was honored by the IAU for his contributions to the study of meteorites and asteroids with the naming of asteroid 4597 Consolmagno.  He is the 2014 recipient of the Carl Sagan Medal from the American Astronomical Society.

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

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3.  Free Opportunity at the Adler Planetarium

What follows is information from Grace Wolf-Chase about an exciting opportunity to attend the Adler Planetarium for free this coming February to celebrate (and prepare for) Evolution Weekend.

Many of you attended last year's "Clergy Contributions to Science" event at the Adler.  Given the enthusiastic response, we have decide to have an annual "Clergy Day," where all clergy (which could be extended to "significant lay leaders" as well) will have free admission to Adler and show(s) of their choosing.  This is not envisioned to be as formal as last year.  Clergy will not have to pre-register (just indicate their status at the door) and will be able to take all the time they want to explore the museum (meaning you won't be in talks all day and this will be far less "scripted" and informal than it was last year — more time for you — and me — to relax:-).  There will be opportunities to have conversations with scientists, but we haven't settled on the venues and logistics for this yet (and if any of you have any thoughts on what might be most useful to you and your colleagues, please feel free to email me!)  The basic idea is to show clergy support for, and participation in, science to counter "culture war" attitudes that science and religion are incompatible. We have deliberately put this on the calendar the Tuesday BEFORE The Clergy Letter Project's "Evolution Weekend" in the hopes of providing clergy who plan to participate in Evolution Weekend (in whatever way, shape, or form) with ideas or reflections they can take back to their congregations.  We might schedule some kind of webcast Q & A with a scientist(s), so those who can't come to Adler can participate, too — for now, stay tuned!


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4.  Pope Endorses The Clergy Letter Project

Well, not really!  While Pope Francis didn’t actually endorse The Clergy Letter Project, he did make it clear that his position is fully compatible with that of The Clergy Letter Project.  As reported by Religion News Service, the Pope said that “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation.”  The article went on to quote Giovanni Bignami, president of Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics.  Bignami said that Pope Francis’s comments “buried the ‘pseudo theories’ of creationists….The Pope’s statement is significant,” Bignami told Italian news agency Adnkronos. “We are the direct descendents from the Big Bang that created the universe. Evolution came from creation.”  Spread the word!


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If you haven’t yet signed up to participate in Evolution Weekend, I hope you do so today.  All you need to do is drop me a note and I’ll add you to our growing list.  I also hope you forward this newsletter to at least one friend.  Doing so will greatly extend our reach.  Thank you for all you have done and all you have yet to do!  Together we are making a difference.


Michael Zimmerman
Founder and Executive Director
The Clergy Letter Project