December 2017 Newsletter

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

  1. Evolution Weekend 2018 and An Exciting New Book;
  2. Astrobiology News for December 2017:  Two-, Three-, and Four-Star Families;
  3. A New Member Describes Her Passion;
  4. The Clergy Letter Project’s Year in Review;
  5. Science-Based Discussion No Longer Possible at the CDC; and
  6. State-Funded Creationism Education and More.

1.   Evolution Weekend 2018 and An Exciting New Book

I want to bring a newly published book to your attention that might be the perfect text to use to shape Evolution Weekend in your congregation.  The book is entitled Interactive World, Interactive God:  The Basic Reality of Creative Interaction and one of the three editors is Carol Rausch Albright, a good friend of The Clergy Letter Project and past executive editor of Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science.  Additionally, three of those contributing chapters to the book are members of The Clergy Letter Project:  The Rev. Joseph Bracken; The Rev. Ted Peters; and Dr. Grace Wolf-Chase. 

Interactive World, Interactive God is a collection of essays by scientists and theologians that explores and reflects upon 21st century developments in science.  These developments suggest reality may best be characterized by creative interaction - a radical departure from thinking about the world in terms of simple cause-and-effect!  This book will be particularly useful for seminary students, as an introduction to science and religion dialog, but will hopefully have broader appeal as well.  For example, Clergy Letter Project members might consider using content from the book for an adult education course, or for developing a sermon on science and religion.

Clergy Letter Project member Rev. Dr. Robert John Russell, Director of the Francisco J. Ayala Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, enthused about the book as follows:  “This remarkable text explores the fruits of science from fundamental physics through the origins of living things, from the human brain to society, gleaning their importance to religion where we are called to choose to live a life of love for God and for others.  It brings the wealth of contemporary scholarly conversations about theology and science by many of its leading authors to a wider readership.  I highly recommend it!”

Thanks to the generosity of Carol Rausch Albright and the publisher, I have a number of free copies to offer members of The Clergy Letter Project to help prepare for Evolution Weekend 2018.  Additionally, members wishing to purchase the book will receive a 40 percent discount.

If you think this book will help you prepare for Evolution Weekend 2018, let me know and I’ll award a free copy (you pay for postage) to every fourth person who asks until all copies are claimed.

_____  Please enter me in the drawing to win a free copy of Interactive World, Interactive God.  If selected, I agree to pay $5 for postage and handling.

       ______ I plan to participate in Evolution Weekend 2018.  Please add me to the growing list of participants.

Name of Congregation:
Your Name:

       ______ I’m already listed as participating in Evolution Weekend 2018.

If you’re not selected to receive a free copy of the book, you can order one directly from the publisher and receive a 40 percent discount.  Simply go to the Wipf and Stock website (where you can read more about the book) and use the code word INTERACTIVE when you check out to receive your discount.  This special discount for Clergy Letter Project members will remain available through 23 January 2018.

Whether you enter the lottery for this book or not, I very much hope you sign up to participate in Evolution Weekend 2018 (9-11 February 2018) now. 

_______ Yes, by all means, please add me and my congregation (university) to the list of participants in Evolution Weekend 2018:

Name of Congregation:
Your Name:

Finally, if you plan to participate, please take a second to check our list of participants to be certain that you’re already on it.  If not, just let me know and I’ll get you added.


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2.   Astrobiology News for December 2017:  Two-, Three-, and Four-Star Families

In this month’s Astrobiology News, Clergy Letter Project consultant and Adler Planetarium astronomer Grace Wolf-Chase discusses planetary systems with multiple stars.

Without any spoilers for those of you who intend to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but haven’t already seen it, there is a scene that mirrors our first encounter with Luke Skywalker, as he watched the two suns of his home world, Tatooine, setting in the 1977 classic Star Wars: A New Hope.   Of course, when the first Star Wars movie was released forty years ago, we had yet to discover even one exoplanet orbiting a single star, but the landscape has changed dramatically since the end of the 20th century, and in 2011, the first unambiguous detection of an exoplanet that orbits two stars was announced.  With the blessings of George Lucas, Kepler-16b was nicknamed “Tatooine” by scientists.

Unlike Luke Skywalker’s home world, Kepler-16b is not in a galaxy “far, far away”, but rather a “mere” 200 light-years away, and it doesn’t share many other similarities with Tatooine – it is thought to be cold and gaseous, not hot and arid.  Nevertheless, over 50% of stars have one or more companion star, so it is particularly interesting to explore what types of worlds – particularly potentially habitable worlds - might exist on stable orbits in systems containing more than one star.  In binary (two-star) systems, exoplanets can orbit one or both stars(1), depending upon their location in the system and the distance between the stars.  It’s not always obvious that a given star has a stellar companion – and as you might imagine, the presence of more than one star can complicate measurements of star and exoplanet properties, so searching for stellar companions is an important aspect of characterizing these systems.(2)

Exoplanets have also been discovered in systems with three and even four stars.  In fact, it was citizen scientists working on the Planet Hunters project who discovered the first exoplanet in a quadruple star system.(3)  Just as there are websites that keep tallies of the number of known exoplanets(4) and potentially habitable exoplanets(5), there is a website that keeps a tally of known exoplanets in multiple star systems.(6)  There is even a site that lets you compute habitable zones in multiple star systems!(7)

Whether there are any exoplanets in six-star systems like the fictional Lagash envisioned in Isaac Asimov’s famous 1941 science fiction short story, Nightfall(8), remains to be seen, but on a clear winter night, cast your gaze up to the bright star, Castor, in the constellation Gemini.  Not counting the Sun, Castor is the 24th brightest star in the sky (as seen from Earth), and at a distance of roughly 50 light-years, it ranks as the closest known six-star system.  You’ll need a small telescope to resolve Castor into two stars, though, and somewhat more sophisticated equipment to tease out all six.

Clear Skies & Joyous Holidays!

Until next month,

Grace Wolf-Chase, Ph.D. (

1.  A 3rd possibility is too complex to explain in this brief article, but see endnote 6.
3.  Schwamb et al. 2013, Astrophysical Journal, 768, 127 (21 pp)


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3.  A New Member Describes Her Passion

The Rev. Dr. Maria Evans is a new member of The Clergy Letter Project.  As a medical doctor and an Episcopal priest she regularly deals with both religion and science.  Here’s a powerful statement she’s offered about what this means in her life:

For over a quarter century I have been a practicing hospital surgical and clinical pathologist, and have relied on science to inform me in the diagnosis of disease.  I have spent a lifetime pondering the questions, "What is it?" and "How did it get that way?"  More recently, as an Episcopal priest, I sit with my parishioners in the hospital, and ponder the questions "Why is it?" and "What does this mean?"  

Science and religion have always been complimentary in my life, not oppositional.  Evolution, biodiversity, astrophysics, and all the sciences simply seem like God's handiwork to me.  I see issues such as climate change and genetic research as opportunities to better understand how we are to be better stewards of God's creation.  Science does not lessen my awe of God or take away my understanding of the Paschal Mystery--it deepens it.  Living a lifetime as a practicing physician has taught me that God works through science and through the people called to put science in practice; in my more recent vocation as a priest my love of God through my understanding of science is what aids me most in pastoral care.  Science tells me "how"; religion tells me "why."  This flawed, broken world needs both!

Please think about sharing your thoughts!


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4.  The Clergy Letter Project’s Year in Review

It’s been both a busy and productive year for The Clergy Letter Project.  In a piece I just published at Huffington Post I catalog the highlights in a month by month manner.  Although you’re probably familiar with each action The Clergy Letter has taken, you might still want to take a look at this essay to celebrate our success.  As you read the piece, please remember that none of this could have happened without you.  So, let me offer you my congratulations and my thanks.


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5.  Science-Based Discussion No Longer Possible at the CDC

A recent report just came out indicating that seven words were no longer to be used at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):  vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based, and science-based.  I’m delighted to say that The Clergy Letter Project is one of several organizations signing a letter written by Vote for Science explaining why this situation is so very dangerous and so very wrong.


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6.  State-Funded Creationism Education and More

Creationism education seems to be alive and well across the country.  Beyond that, it seems to be financially well supported by the government through state-funded school voucher programs.  And the terribly sad part is that creationism is just a small part of their troubling curriculum.  A recent detailed study has shown the magnitude of the problem, demonstrating that the “education” offered often includes indoctrination on the subservient role women are supposed to play and the evils of environmentalism, among other topics.  Consider this paragraph from the study concerning a common text’s view on the origins of psychology:  “Satan did not want people worshipping God, so in the late 1800s, Satan hatched ‘the ideas of evolution, socialism, Marxist-socialism (Communism), progressive education, and modern psychology’ to counter America’s increased religiosity.”  The full piece is well worth reading.


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Best wishes for a healthy, happy and productive new year and a joy-filled season for those of you celebrating Christmas.

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