Hundreds of US churches and many thousands of religious believers defied the stereotype that American Christianity is a cipher for anti-science creationism last week, as they marked Evolution Weekend with sermons and seminars on the consonance of spiritual and scientific exploration.
Pastors, theological educators, scientists and lay people also joined together to mark the 199th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth on 12 February. Darwin, a number of whose specific ideas have been superseded, but whose influence remains vital, is regarded as the founding father of the modern biological sciences.
Educators and clergy have been working together to bridge the popular perception of an inevitable gap between science and religion by organizing an annual teach-in to to coincide with the anniversary.
Together they are working to combat the influence of creationism and its cousin 'intelligent design', which base their rejection of all or part of evolutionary science on discredited biblical interpretation and a god-of-the-gaps idea that the divine is to be sought in the 'holes' or limits of the natural sciences.
By contrast, mainstream scholars argue that the creativity of God is to be understood in and through the natural, not in conflict with it, though they give different pictures and accounts of the relation between God and the world.
An international panel of scholars gathered under the umbrella of the Cambridge-based International Society for Science and Religion (ISSR) have recently agreed a statement explaining why 'intelligent design' is both poor theology and faulty science (http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/6707).
In 2006 and 2007, the event now called Evolution Weekend was known as Evolution Sunday. The organizers say the title has been changed "in an attempt to be more welcoming to members of all religions."
Dr Michael Zimmerman, the intiative's founder and dean of liberal arts and sciences at Butler University in Indianapolis, told journalists before the Weekend that the effort is going "phenomenally well".
"We have gone up almost 30 percent over last year's participants, which was 30 percent over the year before," he told commented.
He is especially pleased to see more scientists getting involved. Over 550 scientists from 29 countries have signed up to help answer questions from clergy or congregations, to speak at church services, or to promote Evolution Weekend gatherings.
"I want to be clear: These scientists are not promoting religion, they're promoting good science," he said. "But they're perfectly willing to work with clergy to promote [understanding]."
More than 800 or more congregations taking part in Evolution Weekend have been engaged in the science-religion dialogue this year. The available resources included more than 100 sample sermons - many of them exploring how both the contingency and complexity of evolved life can be understood as reflections of divine creativity and the whole world process as gift.
Those working to promote understanding of modern evolutionary biology and to combat creationism include the respected National Center for Science Education, which works collaboratively with (and employs) both religious believers and the non-religious.
Theology, science and the problem of ID, by Simon Barrow - http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/6707
Clargy Project / Evolution Weekend - http://www.butler.edu/clergyproject/rel_evolution_weekend_2008.htm
National Center for Science Education: http://www.natcenscied.org/
International Society for Science and Religion (ISSR) - http://www.issr.org.uk/index.asp