February 11, 2007 | David F. Coppedge

Evolution Sunday Honors Darwin Over God

An essay by Edna Devore of the SETI Institute on Space.com encourages churches to join in Mike Zimmerman’s “Evolution Sunday” celebrations.  Zimmerman, with his Clergy Letter Project (see also New Scientist), has gotten over 10,000 pastors to sign a statement affirming evolution as an essential part of science and religion (02/11/2006).  Devore thinks this is a wonderful opportunity for scientists and people of faith to join in dialogue.1
    Devore’s advertisement, dripping with praise for Charles Darwin but without a single mention of God, includes this paragraph about why the SETI Institute is promoting Evolution Sunday:

Why is SETI Institute concerned with Darwin and evolution?  Understanding the evolution of the universe—galaxies, stars, planets, and life—is at the heart of our research.  In Darwin’s autobiography he states, “Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws.”  Discovering these “fixed laws” that govern the origin, nature and distribution of life is the core mission of the SETI Institute, and exploring change over time is the powerful theme that unifies all of our work, from laboratory to classroom.  The work of our scientists working on the NASA Astrobiology Institute research team focuses on the co-evolution of life and its planetary context, in projects that range from studies of life’s emergence on early Earth to the habitability of planets orbiting relatively cool M-stars.  This project will directly impact the Institute’s search for evidence of life that, like us, is sufficiently complex to reflect upon its own origins.  The evolution of complexity and intelligence is a challenging research area, but one that can be probed scientifically, and Institute research seeks to tease important insights out of both the fossil record and animal communication systems.  Darwin would no doubt be fascinated!

Regarding “fixed laws” in biology, however, an essay in Nature this week questioned whether biology has any laws in the sense that physics employs.2   In “A battle of two cultures,” Evelyn Keller argued from philosophy and history that physics and biology cannot be compared on the basis of scientific laws:

How appropriate is it to look for all-encompassing laws to describe the properties of biological systems?  By its very nature, life is both contingent and particular, each organism the product of eons of tinkering, of building on what had accumulated over the course of a particular evolutionary trajectory.  Of course, the laws of physics and chemistry are crucial.  But, beyond such laws, biological generalizations (with the possible exception of natural selection) may need to be provisional because of evolution, and because of the historical contingencies on which both the emergence of life and its elaboration depended.
    Perhaps it is time to face the issues head on, and ask just when it is useful to simplify, to generalize, to search for unifying principles, and when it is not.

Keller did not elaborate on why she thought natural selection could possibly be exempted from the provisional nature of biology.  She ended by stating that the influx of physical scientists into the emerging discipline of “systems biology” will require some guidelines – maybe even abandoning the their “traditional holy grail of universal ‘laws’.”
    That debate aside, Edna Devore ended with the all-encompassing questions any worldview must ask.  But strangely, for someone asking churches to come on board, she said nothing about how God might be at least a partial source of information.  No; the only personages to look to for answers, according to Devore, are: self, and Charles Darwin.

What might be found can best be understood from a basis of self-knowledge.  Where did we come from?  Where are we going?  What else is out there, and how did it evolve?  What will we become?  Big questions to ponder on the birthday of a man who helped us shape them.


1Zimmerman calls it “Evolution Sunday” instead of “Darwin Sunday” because he claims only creationists refer to evolutionary theory as “Darwinism.”  Why he chose his special day to fall on the Sunday before Charles Darwin’s birthday he did not explain.  Devore seems to understand the centrality of Darwin to evolution; her short essay contains 18 references to Charles Darwin, but none to other evolutionary theorists.  Her essay begins with a quote from Darwin and ends with praise for “the man who helped us shape” the answers to life’s biggest questions.
2Evelyn Fox Keller, “Connections: A clash of two cultures,” Nature 445, 603 (8 February 2007) | doi:10.1038/445603a.

Devore’s essay is so silly and shallow and uninformed, it’s easy to dismiss it as complete poppycock.  But Christians should be merciful, so let’s meet her halfway, and suggest ways we might make Evolution Sunday a meaningful occasion.  Here is a suggested Order of Worship for Evolution Sunday:

  • Begin with a moment of silence for the 148 million who died under the regimes Darwin’s philosophy inspired (11/30/2005).
  • Scripture Reading: Psalm 1 (the danger of walking in the counsel of the ungodly, instead of delighting in the law of the Lord).
  • Opening hymn: This Is My Father’s World.
  • Sunday School Lesson: the art of Baloney Detecting.
  • Testimonies: people who trusted their self-knowledge and ruined their lives till they got back to the Word of God, or who embraced evolutionism uncritically till they studied the evidence.
  • Prayer: each class prays for a communist country that is still trying to impose atheism, justifying it with Darwin’s theory.  Pray for the pastors and Christians being persecuted (see Persecution.com).  Also pray that social evils will end that are rationalized by evolution: abortion, embryonic stem cell killing, cloning.
  • Choir: Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee (02/09/2007).
  • Sermon: Matthew 7 (Sermon on the Mount) about building on the rock of Jesus’ word instead of the shifting sands of human opinion.  Give illustrations of the many ways evolutionary theory has shifted with each new falsifying evidence (e.g., 12/14/2004 and the 12/27/2006 commentary).  Describe how evolutionary ideas did not begin with Charles Darwin, but illustrate the Long War Against God.
    Option Two:  The contrast between Darwin’s Tree of Life (02/01/2007) and the Tree of Life described in Genesis and Revelation.  Key text: Proverbs 3:13-24.  Secondary text: Matthew 7:13-20 (a tree is known by its fruit).  Other references to “tree of life” can be found on BibleGateway.
  • Hymn: How Firm a Foundation, about God’s excellent Word.
  • Challenge: Every member gets a packet of materials to use in witnessing to Darwinists: a copy of ICR’s Acts and Facts newsletter with encouragement to get on the mailing list, a card listing URLs for creation websites (like this one), a package of gospel tracts aimed at flaws in evolutionary theory such as these from CMI, and a copy of the DVD The Case for a Creator.

We hope Edna appreciates our attempts to help make Evolution Sunday a rich and meaningful opportunity to reflect on “the development of evolutionary theory from before Darwin to the present and the rich and complex historical interaction of evolution and Christianity.”

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