Darwin Finds Some Followers In The Pulpits Churches and synagogues worldwide will be holding events this weekend to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. Organizers of Evolution Weekend say it's a chance for people of faith to challenge the assumption that evolution and religion are incompatible.
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Darwin Finds Some Followers In The Pulpits

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Darwin Finds Some Followers In The Pulpits

Darwin Finds Some Followers In The Pulpits

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

Tomorrow is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. Many religious people don't believe in evolution. They say it's not compatible with their faith. But this weekend, more than 800 pastors and rabbis will proclaim their belief that science and religion can co-exist.

NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: Henry Green is the pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in Annapolis, Maryland, and he's a rarity among Southern Baptists, openly skeptical that the Bible is the literal word of God, that the Earth was created in a few thousand years, and that Adam and Eve were created from dirt.

He says for too long, conservatives have tried to reconcile faith and science by throwing out science.

Mr. HENRY GREEN (Pastor, Heritage Baptist Church): Fundamentalists want to take people away from real science and try put on some kind of bogus discussion about intelligent design or creationism. Well, guess what? I believe God created, but I just happen to believe that the scientists have it right in understanding that creation.

HAGERTY: His views have not made him popular among his fellow ministers. He recalls when one colleague heard about his views, he began to witness to Green.

Mr. GREEN: Because he felt like maybe I wasn't a Christian. And then he looked at me and he says, well, you know, Henry, if you just change your mind, you'd have a lot of friends. And I looked back at him and I said, Jim, I don't need your friendship that bad.

HAGERTY: Green says he views Genesis as spiritual truth, about God as creator, but not as historical fact.

Green is the kind of clergyman that Michael Zimmerman has been looking for. The biologist and dean at Butler University in Indiana organized Evolution Weekend four years ago to show that many clergy embrace science.

Professor MICHAEL ZIMMERMAN (Dean, Butler University): With clergy weighing in, it should become clear that the issue is not a fight between religion and science, but that most religious leaders were on the same side as the scientists, and the fight was between different religious groups.

HAGERTY: This year, Jews have joined the mission.

David Oler is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Or, a reform synagogue in Deerfield, Illinois. He wrote a letter in July inviting rabbis to participate in Evolution Shabbat. Oler says there's the same kind of split over Darwin within Judaism, but he says many Orthodox Jews are able to reconcile Genesis with evolution.

Doctor DAVID OLER (Rabbi, Congregation Beth Or): It's interesting to take note that the creation story goes in a progression. It doesn't have human beings created first and animals later. There's water, there's light, then there's plants, then there's animals, and then there's human beings.

HAGERTY: Tim Bagwell, pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Macon, Georgia, says even in the Bible Belt, there's a quiet shift away from literalism. When he preaches about the compatibility of science and faith, he says, members of his congregation often come to him with this question:

Mr. TIM BAGWELL (Pastor, Centenary United Methodist Church): Why didn't you tell me about this before? I've had all of these questions for all of these years, and no one's ever talked with me, no one's ever given me permission to ask the questions that have been deep down inside of my soul.

HAGERTY: It's not liberal theology, but daily life that has changed the views of some congregants at the First United Methodist Church in Jacksboro, Texas.

Pastor David Weber looks out from his church at the oil fields where many of his members work. They kick over fossils every single day.

Reverend DAVID WEBER (Pastor, First United Methodist Church): They see ocean water that is 200 million years old coming out of the ground daily as new wells are drilled. They've had a hard time all their lives putting all of that many, many million-year-old evidence into 4,000-year-old stories.

HAGERTY: And not just his own members. Weber's sermons are broadcast on the local cable TV station, and they've attracted the attention of people who attend more conservative churches.

Rev. WEBER: Oftentimes, I notice in grocery stores or the gas station they kind of look around to see who's watching before they come to me and tell me that, you know, David, we really like what you say. We kind of think that too. So it's - some really backward compliments not to me, but to the message of rationality.

HAGERTY: Which is the message that he'll deliver when he steps up to the pulpit this Evolution Weekend.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.

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