April 2016 Newsletter

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

  1. Evolution Weekend 2017;
  2. Astrobiology News for April 2016:  Searching for Life Searching for Us;
  3. Science and Faith Videos – Second Call;
  4. Where Faith and Science Meet; and
  5. Join Me in Portland at the PCUSA General Assembly.

1.  Evolution Weekend 2017

Yes, I realize that it might seem crazy to be announcing Evolution Weekend 2017 this far in advance, but I want to make certain that it makes it onto your calendars – and I want to begin to build our list of participants.

Evolution Weekend 2017 will be celebrated on 10-12 February 2017. As always, those dates were selected because they are closest to the anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin: 12 February 1809. Additionally, as always, while most participants hold their events on that specific weekend, if, for any reason, that weekend poses a problem, you can still participate by choosing a time that is more convenient for you, your congregation or your class. The most important facet of Evolution Weekend is the nature of the discussions that take place attempting to bridge what many erroneously see as an irreconcilable divide between religion and science. Please sign up now to engage in meaningful dialogue in your community – dialogue that you shape as you deem appropriate.

_____ YES! Please sign us up to participate in Evolution Weekend 2017 – 10-12 February 2017

Name of Congregation:
City, State:
My Name:


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2.  Astrobiology News for April 2016:  Searching for Life Searching for Us

In this month’s Astrobiology News, Clergy Letter Project consultant and Adler Planetarium astronomer Grace Wolf-Chase discusses the search for intelligent life in our Universe.

Before you read Grace’s piece, however, I want to bring an important new resource to your attention. Grace has written about the citizen-scientist efforts of Zooinverse in the past. In response to the recent devastating earthquake in Ecuador, Zooniverse has created a new endeavor that enables people working from their computers to help guide rescue workers on the ground. Please take a look at the new Planetary Response Network project and think about getting involved. It is amazing how much good we can do with little effort!

Since 1960, astronomers have conducted more than 100 searches for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). All such surveys are necessarily based on certain assumptions regarding the behavior and desires of hypothetical alien civilizations, and as SETI scientist, Jill Tarter, has pointed out, they would more aptly be called searches for extraterrestrial technology, since it’s signs of technology that we’d detect. Of course, it’s probably safe to assume that intelligent life would be the source of that technology! Major SETI questions include which stars and exoplanets would make the best targets, what frequency range to search for messages, and what kind of sensitivity we’d need to detect artificial extraterrestrial signals. This month’s issue of the journal Astrobiology featured an article that suggested a way to identify exoplanets whose hypothetical inhabitants might be predisposed to considering Earth an interesting target for communication.(1)

The article’s authors suggest building on the tremendous success of the Kepler Observatory in finding exoplanets whose orbits periodically pass in front of (transit) their stars. A remarkable amount of information can be gleaned from transiting exoplanets through a technique known as transit spectroscopy, which may soon enable us to distinguish the chemical imprints of life in exoplanetary atmospheres. In order to observe a transit, however, the plane of an exoplanet’s orbit must be nearly along the line-of-sight as viewed from the Earth. The same is true for any remote extraterrestrials – in order to view Earth transiting the Sun, their line-of-sight would have to lie very close to the plane of our Solar System, which we call the ecliptic.

The authors compile a list of 82 known stars fairly similar to our Sun that are within what they call the restricted Earth transit zone (rETZ), where they argue extraterrestrials might be able to characterize our planet’s atmosphere from observing Earth’s transits across the Sun. They point out that even if Earth chose to remain intentionally “radio-quiet”, we couldn’t hide from observers located in Earth’s transit zone, if they exist. Such observers might describe our planet similar to the way Carl Sagan did after viewing Voyager 1’s famous image of the Earth from a distance of more than 4 billion miles away - “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

Since I’m writing this during EarthFest,the Adler Planetarium’s extended celebration of Earth Day, it seems appropriate to end with another famous quote from Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, published only two years before Carl Sagan passed away, and one year before the discovery of the first exoplanet orbiting a Sun-like star. “It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”(2)

Until next month,


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

1.  Heller, R. & Pudritz, R.E. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence in Earth’s Solar Transit Zone, Astrobiology, Vol. 16, No. 4, 2016 (DOI: 10.1089/ast.2015.1358)

2.  Sagan, C. (1994) Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, 1st ed., Random House, New York.

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3.  Science and Faith Videos – Second Call

Last month’s Newsletter asked if any of you had recommendations of good videos designed for children exploring the intersection of science and faith. As I noted, Grace Wolf-Chase is working with ELCA educator Kim Eighmy on a science and faith video to introduce Kim’s curriculum, Faith Intersections, to middle and high school youth. Although this curriculum will probably be most useful to mainline protestant traditions, it likely could be easily adapted to other Christian traditions and possibly serve as a model for other faiths seeking to produce similar products.

If you have any suggestions, please share them directly with Grace by sending her an e-mail at gwolfchase@adlerplanetarium.org.


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4.  Where Faith and Science Meet

The Reverend Paul Kirbas, long-time member of The Clergy Letter Project and founder of The Kirbas Institute, has worked with the Institute to produce a television show that promotes science and faith. The show is called "The Exchange, Where Faith and Science Meet" and the most recent series was on animal ethics. You can view the wonderful episodes for free on-line and you might want to consider making use of them as part of your Evolution Weekend 2017 event.



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5.  Join Me in Portland at the PCUSA General Assembly

If you’re planning to attend the PCUSA General Assembly in Portland this coming June, I hope you’ll be able to join me for a discussion of The Clergy Letter Project. I’m scheduled to be at the The Kirbas Institute booth on Monday, 20 June from 11:30 am – 1 pm. I hope to see you there!


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For those of you who may be paying attention to the number of signatures on The Clergy Letters, you will have noticed a large increase over the last month. Indeed, The Christian Clergy Letter has grown by more than 120 signatures in recent weeks. This follows an increase of almost 150 signatures on our UU Clergy Letter the preceding month! I’m delighted that we are able to continue to expand our reach. You can help simply by forwarding this Newsletter to a colleague or two and asking them to add their voices to those promoting a deep and meaningful understanding between religion and science. As always, thank you for your continued support. Together we are making a difference.


Michael Zimmerman
Founder and Executive Director
The Clergy Letter Project


The Clergy Letter Project gratefully acknowledges financial support from the Center for Advanced Study in Religion and Science (CASIRAS) to cover costs of the email service, provided by Constant Contact, to distribute the monthly Newsletter.