DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
At school board hearings, in town meetings, from church pulpits, and in scientific journals, the conflict between Darwinism and creationism has sharply divided many scientists and religious evangelicals.
But leading scientists and religious leaders have recently set aside differences on how the world came to be. They've joined forces to protect the Earth's future.
Today, NPR News kicks off a special week-long series, Crossing the Divide.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm a uniter, not a divider.
Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California) Partnership, not partisanship.
Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Democrat, Ohio): Disagree without being disagreeable to each other.
ELLIOTT: Crossing The Divide segments will air on NPR shows throughout this week, looking at ways people across the political, racial, economic and social spectrum in America work together or fail to.
NPR's Rachel Martin has our report on the scientists and evangelicals who are working together to protect the environment.
RACHEL MARTIN: Richard Cizik is the vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals. He believes God made the world in a matter of days. Eric Chivian is a biochemist from Harvard University who maintains that man evolved from matter over billions of years.
Chivian says before meeting each other, Cizik may have thought of him and other scientists as...
Mr. ERIC CHIVIAN (Harvard University): Latte-sipping, Prius-driving, endive-munching, New York Times-reading, you know, snobs. And we might have seen them as Hummer-driving, Bible-thumping, you know, fire-breathing...
Mr. RICHARD CIZIK (National Association of Evangelicals): Snake-handling fundamentalists.
MARTIN: Unlikely allies? Perhaps. But that's exactly what they've become in their mutual quest to fight global warming. The two men have launched what they're calling a dialogue between leading figures in science and religion, specifically evangelical Christianity. They're not pushing any specific legislation, but they're trying to raise the public profile of environmental issues.
Both men are actually sipping lattes at a restaurant a couple of blocks from Capitol Hill. And sitting across the room is someone who could help their cause in a big way.
Mr. CHIVIAN: Hello, this is my friend Richard...
Senator HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (Democrat, New York): Hi. How are you?
MARTIN: They've spotted Senator Hillary Clinton finishing up a breakfast meeting in a booth in the back. It's an opportunity the men can't pass up.
Senator CLINTON: Well, I have followed what you have done...
Mr. CIZIK: Thank you. Thank you.
Senator CLINTON: ...with admiration and interest.
Mr. CIZIK: Thank you.
Senator CLINTON: Yes, it's so exciting.
Mr. CIZIK: Well, we're counting on you to champion this. We know you will.
Senator CLINTON: I certainly will.
MARTIN: Five years ago, Cizik never would have been seen lobbying a Democratic senator on environmental issues. Like many evangelicals, he saw the environment as a, quote, "liberal" cause that prioritized the needs of plants and animals over those of human beings. But after attending an environmental conference at Oxford University in 2002, Cizik says he had a revelation.
Mr. CIZIK: I came away from the event absolutely convinced not only of the science but that I should do my part in this, in helping to persuade other evangelicals of their rightful role.
MARTIN: Over time, Cizik says he began to see the connections between the so-called life issues that are so important to evangelicals and preserving God's creation.
Mr. CIZIK: If coal-burning utility plants emit, you know, nitrous oxides, mercury - mercury in particular - which then is transmitted into our rivers and lakes of this country, eaten by fish and transmitted to pregnant women, who pass it on to their unborn babies; now, isn't that a sanctity of life issue? Of course it is.
RACHEL MARTIN: Cizik and Chivian say the alliance is a win-win situation. Evangelicals get the scientific credibility they need to bring this message to worshipers. Environmentally concerned scientists get their message to tens of millions of evangelicals. Among those embracing this new alliance is Edward Wilson, a Harvard biologist and a famed secular humanist. After a press conference last week, he said this kind of collaboration hasn't happened until now because both sides have been afraid of each other.
Mr. EDWARD WILSON (Harvard University): The secularists are afraid of the power and the potential bigotry, as they see it, of the religiously dedicated. The religious conservatives see the secularists as the enemy, wanting to carpet-bomb their most basic beliefs. Now we're both discovering otherwise.
MARTIN: But make no mistake. Cizik and a handful of other religious leaders are still minority voices among evangelicals, and Cizik has been heavily criticized for allegedly diluting the Christian agenda with his environmental crusade. Even so, Richard Cizik and Eric Chivian say if more people from both science and religion would sit down together as they are doing here and talk honestly, they'll discover surprising common ground and, as Chivian describes it, a universal, even divine, truth.
Mr. CHIVIAN: We all breathe the same air, we all drink the same water, and our children will especially be dependent on this world that we leave them, and so if we leave them in an impoverished and unhealthy world, we have committed not only something that's foolish, but it's deeply ignorant and morally inexcusable, and we're saying that together.
Mr. CIZIK: And to all of that, Eric, my friend, I say amen.
MARTIN: Rachel Martin, NPR News, Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.