March 2017 Newsletter

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

  1. The Clergy Letter Project and the March for Science;
  2. Astrobiology News for March 2017:  Cool Dwarf TRAPPIST-1 and the Seven Earths;
  3. Interesting Parallels between Clergy and Military Leaders And More;
  4. The Evolution of Genesis; and
  5. Is Creationist Legislation Coming to a State Near You?.

1.   The Clergy Letter Project and the March for Science

In last month’s newsletter, I asked members to vote on whether The Clergy Letter Project should formally participate in the March for Science, planned for 22 April 2017 in Washington, DC, with satellite marches occurring all over the world.  The results were overwhelming with 83 percent of those voting indicating that we should participate. 

Given this vote, I’ve contacted the organizers of the March to indicate our support.  I’ve also written a piece for The Huffington Post and another for announcing our support.  I hope you believe that I’ve represented our position fairly and that you share the pieces broadly.

If you plan to participate in the March in any location, I hope you think about doing so with a banner or sign indicating that you’re representing The Clergy Letter Project.  I am confident that proudly demonstrating the fact that clergy members are promoting science will help make the case for the power and value of the scientific enterprise.  And if you do participate, please send me a photograph. 

Finally, I want to share with you the comments that one member of The Clergy Letter Project wrote along with his vote that The Clergy Letter Project NOT participate in the March.  His comments are thoughtful and should give all of us pause – but they should also provide us with the incentive to continue our work, work that is needed now more than ever.

“I definitely agree that we desperately need of do all we can to communicate the nature and value of science more effectively to our non-scientist neighbors—particularly those in positions of power.  But I fail to see how a march—no matter how many there are marching in the streets—is going to accomplish that objective.  Indeed, I believe that it almost certainly would have exactly the opposite effect, to elevate the level of pubic antipathy to ‘so-called elite experts.’

“If the carefully crafted speeches and writings of 97% of the world's climatologists cannot convince the hordes of willful disbelievers that human activities are responsible for at least a part of the climate change that we are experiencing—or even that climate is changing!--how could we possibly expect a march to accomplish such feat?  

“In short, my reason for writing is to express my strongest possible opposition to the idea of a ‘March for Science.’"


Return to Top

2.   Astrobiology News for March 2017:  Cool Dwarf TRAPPIST-1 and the Seven Earths

In this month’s Astrobiology News, Clergy Letter Project consultant and Adler Planetarium astronomer Grace Wolf-Chase discusses the exciting news that seven Earth-like planets have been found circling a nearby star.


I couldn’t resist opening this month’s news with a “punny” title.  I’m sure many of you heard or read NASA’s press release late last month regarding the 7 Earth-sized exoplanets that orbit the star known as TRAPPIST-1 (named for the 1st discovery by the TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope in Chile).(1)  TRAPPIST-1 is a “mere” 39 light-years from our Solar System.  If you could compare TRAPPIST-1 and the Sun at same distance, the Sun would appear over 200,000 times brighter than this “ultra-cool” M dwarf.  There are so many things that make this discovery significant and exciting that it’s difficult to know where to begin!

Envisioning the newly discovered exoplanets should inspire the imagination of scientists and artists alike.  Even the world furthest from TRAPPIST-1 (TRAPPIST-1h) is more than 6 times closer to its star than blazing hot Mercury is from the Sun. At this distance, TRAPPIST-1h takes only 20 days to complete one orbit.  In fact, the orbits of all 7 worlds are so close to each other that a hypothetical being standing on the surface of any one of them could see features on all the others (assuming, of course, that such a being had eyes that work more-or-less like our eyes!).  In spite of the proximity of these worlds to their star, TRAPPIST-1e, -1f, and -1g all lie in their star’s habitable zone, where temperatures might support liquid surface water.

Of the ~3,500 exoplanets discovered to date, roughly one-tenth are Earth-sized.  The fact that so many have been identified around “nearby” stars makes an excellent case that these worlds are common in our Universe.  Of course, “Earth-sized” doesn’t automatically translate to “Earth-like.”  The size and mass (and therefore the average density) of 6 of the worlds of TRAPPIST-1 indicate they are likely to be terrestrial (rocky) in nature(2), but we don’t yet know whether any of them could (or do) support life.  

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), currently scheduled for launch next year, will be able to examine the atmospheres of the TRAPPIST-1 exoplanets remotely, from its orbit around our Sun.  JWST will search for molecules such as water, oxygen, methane, carbon dioxide, and ozone, in order to assess whether any of these worlds might support life.(3)  In the words of astrobiologist Shawn Domalgal-Goldman, “Two weeks ago, I would have told you that Webb can do this in theory, but in practice it would have required a nearly perfect target.  Well, we were just handed three nearly perfect targets.”

Until next month,

Grace Wolf-Chase, Ph.D. (


2.  We don’t yet have an estimate of the mass of TRAPPIST-1h.


Return to Top


3.  Interesting Parallels between Clergy and Military Leaders And More

People are often surprised when I tell them about The Clergy Letter Project because they don’t think that clergy members would be supporters of science. 

I recently wrote a piece drawing on this surprise and discussing how people are often similarly confused about the role military leaders play in international affairs.  For 14 years a university ROTC program reported to me in my role as a dean of a liberal arts college – and for each of those years I was impressed by the sentiments expressed by the individuals who were in charge of the program.  I hope you find the essay interesting.

In recognition of an editorial published by Covalence: The Newsletter of the Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology, I wrote a piece asking, who will speak for science.  My answer was that clergy will do so!

Feel free to browse through some of my recent articles, including the two just mentioned:

Let me know what you think!


Return to Top


4.  The Evolution of Genesis

Charles Munroe, a long-time friend of The Clergy Letter Project, has been combatting creationism for many years.  He has written a book entitled The Evolution of Genesis:  The Common Sense Biblical Interpretation and is interested in doing much more. 

He has interest in producing a film demonstrating that a literal interpretation of Genesis does as much damage to religion as it does to evolution and he is interested in drafting and send a letter to school board members around the country explaining the problems with promoting creationism in public schools.  If you might be interested in working with him on either of these projects, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with him.


Return to Top


5.  Is Creationist Legislation Coming to a State Near You?

In last month’s newsletter I told you about creationist activity in Indiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas.  I’m sorry to say that a number of additional states are attempting to move anti-science legislation forward; Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Iowa and Louisiana have all had disturbing legislative activities this month.  

Clearly the work of The Clergy Letter Project is far from over!


Return to Top

Thank you to those of you who voted this past month about our participation in the March for Science – and thank you to all of you for your ongoing support for the work of The Clergy Letter Project.  As I do every month, I urge you to take one simple action.  Please share this 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