August 2017 Newsletter

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

  1. Charlottesville, White Supremacy and The Clergy Letter Project;
  2. Astrobiology News for August 2017:  Eclipse 2017:  My Excellent Family Adventure;
  3. Potential Themes for Evolution Weekend 2018:  Please Vote
  4. A Free Book for Evolution Weekend 2018;
  5. Anti-Evolution Legislation around the US; and
  6. Positive News in the Face of Anti-Evolution Action in Iraq.

1.   Charlottesville, White Supremacy and The Clergy Letter Project

On behalf of The Clergy Letter Project, I published a strong statement making it clear that The Clergy Project opposes white supremacy and all forms of racial hatred.  I also called for politicians to join us in condemning the actions – and words – of those who are responsible for fomenting such hatred.  (I hasten to add that our statement was published prior to President Trump’s news conference in which he said that there were many “good” people protesting with the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.) 

I want to point out that I framed the position of The Clergy Letter Project in terms of our joint support for religion and science and I hope you agree with what I said.

The voices of many religious leaders and religions, like ours, have been loud and clear on this issue.  Here, for example, is a prayer released by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America just after the deadly events in Charlottesville:  “Just and merciful God, we lift before you the city of Charlottesville, especially victims of violence and those gathered in support of peace and equality. By your might, break the bondage that bigotry, hatred and violence impose on their victims and their perpetrators. May your kingdom come on earth as in heaven; through Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for the life of the world. Amen.”


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2.   Astrobiology News for August 2017:  Eclipse 2017:  My Excellent Family Adventure

In this month’s Astrobiology News, Clergy Letter Project consultant and Adler Planetarium astronomer Grace Wolf-Chase shares her personal experiences with total solar eclipses.

This month, I’ll shift unapologetically from objective science to my subjective experience of what may be the most remarkable natural event on Earth.  Note I use the word “experience” because a total solar eclipse is undeniably a multi-sensory event that no images or videos, however impressive, can ever fully capture; and the most awe-inspiring facets are possible only because the Moon and Sun are currently the same angular size in the sky.(1)

Twice before, I tried to chase down a total solar eclipse. As a graduate student at the University of Arizona in 1991, I traveled(2) to a small island a few kilometers off the coast of Mazatlan, Mexico, where it remained clear until 2-3 minutes before totality, after which a cumulus cloud seemingly appeared from nowhere to rudely block our view.  In 1999, I co-led an eclipse trip to France with the president of the Chicago Field Museum.  Although our eclipse-viewing attempts were a complete washout, touring Paris, along with consuming prodigious amounts of excellent wine and cheese, offered some compensation.

Early in the morning on August 21, 2017, five of us squeezed into my family’s twin-engine Cessna 310 airplane and headed for a small airport in Marshall, Missouri (along the centerline of totality).  I hoped against hope that third time would be a charm!  Flying VFR (visual flight rules, for the non-pilots among you), we dodged clouds and thunderstorms that put on a magnificent display for us en route.  The mostly-clear skies when we landed at around 9 am CDT gave us hope for excellent viewing, but clouds rolled in about an hour later.

Then, around 1 pm CDT, the western horizon started to clear and the Sun finally became visible through a thin layer of cirrus.  Minutes later, it happened – we saw the diamond ring effect and Bailey’s beads(3), as the last rays of sunlight were extinguished and the sky darkened.  The temperature dropped and a few bright stars became visible toward the western horizon, while the Sun disappeared and its glorious corona came into view. Through the sights, feel and eerie quiet of totality, shouts of joy erupted from the gathered crowd, while several dogs gamboled about, encouraged by the excitement of the humans.

The sky cleared during the 2nd half of the eclipse, after the Sun re-emerged as the Moon drifted slowly eastward.  If you have never witnessed a total solar eclipse, I strongly encourage you to put this high on your bucket list, because the experience is so much more than can be conveyed by human words or technology.  On August 21, 2017, people across the U.S. gathered together in excitement, joy, and unity, on a scale that, for an all-too-brief period of time, overshadowed the divisiveness and hostility that has so infected our relationships with others and drained our energy and spirits.  Would that we all could make it a habit to look up, look out, and appreciate the beauty, fragility, and uniqueness of our world each and every day we possess the gift of life!

I’ve included some photos of my eclipse trip in the pdf version of this article, which you can find in the CLP archives:

Until next month,

Grace Wolf-Chase, Ph.D. (

P.S.  You may enjoy reading my interview in Living Lutheran, where I share some of my own views on science and religion:

1.  They won’t be a few hundred million years from now, as the Moon recedes further from the Earth.
2.  I took a small boat with other graduate students and then decided to swim back to Mazatlan, sending my things with my friends.
3.  A single “jewel” surrounded by bead-like areas of light created by the mountains and valleys on the Moon, which allow the last rays of sunlight to filter through in some places but not others.


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3.  Potential Themes for Evolution Weekend 2018:   Please Vote

It’s time to think seriously about the theme for Evolution Weekend 2018.  As many of you know, each year we select an overarching theme for the weekend that helps guide some participants structure their events.  Please remember that you DO NOT have to embrace the theme selected to participate in Evolution Weekend.  Anything you do to promote a fuller understanding of the relationship between religion and science is perfect and permits you to be listed as a participant on our web site.  Nonetheless, adopting a theme for the weekend has been helpful for many congregations and aids with promotion of the weekend.

Please respond to this request with your preference for a theme for 2018.

Theme 1:  Our Shared Humanity.  Science and religion both teach us about our shared humanity and thus both can be used to combat racism.  When the two are combined, the message can be particularly powerful.

Theme 2:  The Importance of Science.  Religion and science both provide ways to understand issues that are important to human beings.  While the questions asked and the focus of the two is often different, both can provide valuable insight.  At a time when science is under attack and some are comfortable substituting opinion for fact, clergy recognize the need to support the importance of the scientific endeavor.

Theme 3:  Another Topic.  Please suggest a theme that you believe will work well for Evolution Weekend 2018.

I’m casting my vote for the following theme be adopted for Evolution Weekend 2018:

_____ Theme 1:  Our Shared Humanity. 

_____ Theme 2:  The Importance of Science. 

_____ Theme 3:  Another Topic.  Please explain what you have in mind:

      _____ Yes, of course, I’ll be participating in Evolution Weekend 2018 (9-11 February 2018)!

Name of Congregation:
Your name:



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4.  A Free Book for Evolution Weekend 2018

Clergy Letter Project Scientific Consultant Karl Giberson has written a classic book exploring how religion and science can be compatible.  I’m pleased to say that I have copies of Saving Darwin:  How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution to give to those of you who think it will help in preparations for Evolution Weekend 2018.  The book has received amazing accolades from impressive individuals.  For example, John Polkinghorne wrote that “Giberson skillfully unravels the tangled skein of argument about creation and evolution, showing that there need be no incompatibility between Christianity and Darwinism.  His writing is lively, in a style that is both informal and informed.”  William Shea noted that, “If you only have time to read one book on science and religion, this is the one.”  And, John Wilson enthused that “This is a wonderfully readable book, humane, modest, and wise.”

I’ll distribute free books, until all copies are claimed, so if you think this volume might help you and your congregation prepare for Evolution Weekend 2018, just let me know.

_____ Of course I’ll participate in Evolution Weekend 2018 (9-11 February 2018)!  (But I don’t need the book!)

Name of Congregation:
Your name:

_____ Yes, I plan to participate in Evolution Weekend 2018 (9-11 February 2018).  Please enter me in the free book sweepstakes.  If selected, I promise to pay $5 to cover postage and handling.

Name of Congregation:
Your name:

Either way, please sign up to participate in Evolution Weekend 2018 now.  Given all that is happening, it is more important than ever for religious leaders to demonstrate the compatibility of religion and science.


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5.  Anti-Evolution Legislation around the US

BioScience, published by the American Institute of Biological Sciences, published an article on 1 August 2017 summarizing legislative actions designed to hinder the teaching of evolution.  The article opened with this chilling sentence:  “A new school year is starting, and if some state legislators have their way, evolution education will be marginalized in the curriculum.”  The article went on to note that the 2017 legislative term was not a good one for science education:  “In statehouses around the country, the 2017 legislative session saw a flurry of attacks on science education.”   Much of this activity does damage to religion as well as science.  These incessant assaults on science education mean that our collective work at The Clergy Letter Project continues to be vital.


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6.  Positive News in the Face of Anti-Evolution Action in Iraq

Clergy Letter Project Scientific Consultant Paul Braterman just published an interesting piece detailing the response some of his work has received in Iraq.  It’s well worth reading!


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Finally, as always, I want to thank you for your continued support and as I do every month, I urge you to take one simple action.  Please share this month's Newsletter with a colleague or two and ask them to add their voices to those promoting a deep and meaningful understanding between religion and science.  They can add their signatures to a Clergy Letter simply by dropping me a note at  Together we are making a difference.


Michael Zimmerman
Founder and Executive Director
The Clergy Letter Project