Sunday, April 12, 2009

Shall the Fundamentalists Win?

Stained glass window depicting the empty tomb at a church in L.A. - Inscription says - "He is not here, he is risen!"
Copyright (c) 2006 Wendee Holtcamp

I just stumbled on this 1922 sermon, later published as a booklet, written by Presbyterian Minister Harry Emerson Fosdick, "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?: Defending Liberal Protestantism in the 1920s," while researching my book (on making peace between evolution and Christianity, which by the way is due very soon - agghhhh!!!) All I have to say is wow, wow, wow!! What a powerful and profound message, and also very interesting given that this took place nearly a century ago. It outlines some of the same controversies of fundamentalism vs modernist/liberal thought, and science versus religion.

Fosdick was investigated and later resigned from the Presbyterian Church after publishing this, but soon became a minister at a Baptist church, and then founded Manhattan's Riverside church. This was just three years before the Scopes Monkey Trial, and one of the Presbyterians promoting the opposing view of fundamentalism was the attorney in that trial – William Jennings Bryan.

Here are some quotes from the sermon that resonated with me:

"Science treats a young man’s mind as though it were really important. A scientist says to a young man, “Here is the universe challenging our investigation. Here are the truths which we have seen, so far. Come, study with us! See what we already have seen and then look further to see more, for science is an intellectual adventure for the truth.” Can you imagine any man who is worthwhile turning from that call to the church if the church seems to him to say, “Come, and we will feed you opinions from a spoon. No thinking is allowed here except such as brings you to certain specified, predetermined conclusions. These prescribed opinions we will give you in advance of your thinking; now think, but only so as to reach these results."

"...the Fundamentalists are giving us one of the worst exhibitions of bitter intolerance that the churches of this country have ever seen."

"...there is one thing I am sure of: courtesy and kindliness and tolerance and humility and fairness are right. Opinions may be mistaken; love never is."

"...there are multitudes of reverent Christians who have been unable to keep this new knowledge in one compartment of their minds and the Christian faith in another. They have been sure that all truth comes from the one God and is His revelation"

"...for the sake of intellectual and spiritual integrity, that they might really love the Lord their God, not only with all their heart and soul and strength but with all their mind, they have been trying to see this new knowledge in terms of the Christian faith and to see the Christian faith in terms of this new knowledge."

This was written just 3 years before the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial and during a time at which there existed a huge controversy between "modernists" and "fundamentalists" within the Presbyterian Church, which made up around 25% of Christians at that time. The split affected many other denominations as well, and led to the decline of Presbyterianism in the U.S. I was actually researching the history of the term fundamentalist, which is when I learned about this whole history - fascinating!! Fundamentalism arose at the Niagara Bible Conferences which were held annually from 1876-1897 where a fourteen-point creed was developed, and later distilled at the 1910 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church to 5 fundamentals of the Christian faith:

  • Inerrancy of the Scriptures

  • The virgin birth and the deity of Jesus (Isaiah 7:14)

  • The doctrine of substitutionary atonement by God's grace and through human faith (Hebrews 9)

  • The bodily resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 28)

  • The authenticity of Christ's miracles (or, alternatively, his pre-millennial second coming)

I actually hold to a fairly conservative ("fundamental") belief in all of these things other than the pre-millennial second coming (I believe that the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod which I attend does not hold that belief either and they're a fairly conservative church). I don't necessarily agree with inerrancy of Scripture. Well, that all depends on how you define it, as there's a whole history around the use of that term, and it didn't even arise until this conference in 1910!!! Yet so many churches use that as "fundamental" to faith. I believe the Bible is the Word of God, and is useful for teaching... and so much more. Its history in coming together is very interesting. I think that some things will always remain holy mysteries this side of heaven. It's also pretty ironic that the Presbyterian Church today is definitely not fundamentalist!

Regardless, the fact that the controversy between science and religion, and conservative/fundamental versus progressive/liberal thought has occurred for so long is just fascinating....Now besides merely defining the fundamentals of the faith, the fundamentalists of that era did more, as they do today. They mixed in political and anti-science thought with the religious ideals. They opposed evolution, and (in effect) opposed educational learning about things like Biblical scholarship as they believed it led people away from the faith. Just think, demanding and requesting people not learn so their faith would not be weakened or lost. What kind of religion or faith can be lost by learning? That is a weak faith indeed, not much worthy of following. I believe Christianity holds up to scrutiny and I say to education of all manner - whether Biblical history, science, or any such thing -bring it on! We need Christians to be more educated about their own religion. We need society more educated about this faith that has so influenced America, Europe, and the world.

I leave with the question: have the fundamentalists win? Shall we let them?

Cross-posted at Bohemian Adventures blog

PS Hope you had a blessed Easter!!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Awesome video

Please all Christians watch this awesome and funny video of a Christian to other Christian on why you should listen to the expertise of REAL scientists - ie evolutionary biologists!

IN fact check out his whole "channel" - I haven't watched any of his other videos but I'll be back to check them out!

I will post some links to blogs etc on the Texas State Board of Education results from the past 3 days testimony and voting of the Board on science standards. It's a mixed bag.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Not on the Test

Check out this fantastic song/video by Grammy winner Tom Chapin, Not on the Test. It aired on NPR and is a sarcastic song about the problems with standardized testing, sung to his 3rd grade son. Check it out:

Here is one stanza of lyrics, mid-song

Each box that you mark on each test that you take,
Remember your teachers, their jobs are at stake.
Your score is their score, but don't get all stressed.
They'd never teach anything not on the test.

And here's an article in NY Teacher, Union fights the trend that starts with teaching to the test.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

God spot and White House science advisors

Just wanted to post a couple links. I came across this article today in the Daily Mail newspaper online, and found it interesting.
Scientists discover the brain's 'God spot'... and show that faith helps human survival.

The only thing that annoys me about the journalist's reporting of the story, and possibly inherent in the research (I haven't read the scientific papers themselves so can't remark) is in this sentence in the article: "Scientists, philosophers and theologians continue to argue about whether religious belief is a biological or a sociological phenomenon."

Why is it an either/or proposition? It's NOT.

Second I wanted to express my complete excitement when I got an email over a listserv I've long been a member of, ECOLOG-L ( talking about the Obama administration inducting zoologist Jane Lubchenco as NOAA advisor and former AAAS president (American Association for the Advancement of Science) John Holdren as White House Science Advisor. I saw this and thought, wow how exciting that a scientist whose marine ecosystem work I read about in my Biology 101 textbook back in 1989 or so is now being inducted in the Obama admin! How cool to not have industry cronies advising the White House on science! But then I also saw that some Senator has placed an "anonymous hold" on them... and I am not sure what that means, exactly, but UGH! Here's a link to a blog post on the hold:

Friday, February 20, 2009

quotes on truth

I am writing, and revising, my chapter on truth - how we come to believe what we do. I've come across some fantastic quotes I thought I'd share here.

There are truths, that are beyond us, transcendent truths, about beauty, truth, honor, etc. There are truths that man knows exist, but they cannot be seen - they are immaterial, but no less real, to us. It is only through the language of myth that we can speak of these truths. - J. R. R. Tolkien

Only through myth, through story telling can we aspire to the life we were made for with God. To write and/or read myth was to meditate on the most important truths of life. – JRR Tolkien

"No doubt those who really founded modern science were usually those whose love of truth exceeded their love of power." -- CS Lewis, The Abolition of Man

"And then she understood the devilish cunning of the enemies' plan. By mixing a little truth with it they had made their lie far stronger." -- CS Lewis The Last Battle (this has got to be the most insightful quote ever - so apropos to intelligent design!)

"To admire Satan [in Paradise Lost] is to give one's vote not only for a world of misery, but also for a world of lies and propaganda, of wishful thinking, of incessant autobiography." --CS Lewis, A Preface to Paradise Lost

"Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it." - Pascal.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The E Word: a playground adaptation

Just wanted to give a quick shout out to the blog for the upcoming play by Sharon Sparlin, who I met at the November 2008 hearings at the State Board of Education in Austin. The play looks riotously funny - I've seen the "treatment" which takes place between young kids (the young Charlie - aka Charles Darwin and Emma). Check out the E Word blog: She also links back to my blog, as well as several other fantastic science blogs out there.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Colbert on evolution

A brief interruption in programming to share something funny.

“Evolution is that like, millions and billions of years of mutations and recombinations and cosmic rays knock something out of one DNA so when the mitosis or myosis or whatever –osis come together something else happens and the fur falls off and suddenly King Kong is a man?”

– Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Mixed outcome in TX Edu Board vote

"I am on fire because I have mountains of ice before me to melt."
- Wendell Phillips

I missed Wednesday's State Board of Education hearing due to a hospital stay (details at my personal blog, Bohemian Adventures - I'm ok!) but here are a few links of interest.

The New York Times did a good balanced article on what happened, Split Outcome in Texas Battle on Teaching of Evolution.

There's a fantastic new website called Science Education Matters that has a wealth of great information on the issues, specifically related to Texas science education. It is a joint project of The Clergy Letter Project and The Center for Inquiry. The Clergy Letter Project is described on their website as:

For too long, the misperception that science and religion are inevitably in conflict has created unnecessary division and confusion, especially concerning the teaching of evolution. I wanted to let the public know that numerous clergy from most denominations have tremendous respect for evolutionary theory and have embraced it as a core component of human knowledge, fully harmonious with religious faith.

In the fall of 2004, I worked with clergy throughout Wisconsin to prepare a statement in support of teaching evolution. We were called to action by a series of anti-evolution policies passed by the school board in Grantsburg, WI. The response was overwhelming. In a few weeks, nearly 200 clergy signed the statement, which we sent to the Grantsburg school board on December 16, 2004. Additionally, groups of educators and scientists sent letters to the Grantsburg School Board and to the Superintendent of Schools protesting these policies. In response to all of this attention, as well as the efforts of others, the Grantsburg School Board retracted their policies.

The outpouring of support from clergy around the country encouraged me to make this a nationwide project. If you want to read more about it or join us in sharing this important perspective, click here. Encourage your clergy to consider signing the statement and please feel free to link to these webpages. And, while the current focus is on Christian clergy, please let me know if you are willing to write and/or host a statement from other religions.

It is formally endorsed by the United Methodist Church, and I hope that many more denominations embrace it. I was asked to be a scientific consultant of the Project, and my name is now listed in their directory of scientific consultants on call to help clergy (or others).

Friday, January 16, 2009

progress on my book

I've been working hard on my book (which as I've mentioned before is about making peace between evolution and Christianity and will be published by Beacon Press). I've been writing new content, and rearranging my first few chapters into a cohesive story. I can write a feature article like it's nothing, since I've been doing it for nearly a decade and a half, but this is my first book and wrapping my head around the overall structure is challenging - but I'm actually having a lot of fun with it.

I've cleared my plate of other tasks and made it my only focus for the time being. The first chapter in the book, The Making of a Christian Evolutionist, talks about how I came to be a Christian who accepts evolution. It takes the reader from me as a naive but faithful young child, through some challenging life situations and to the point where I became an atheist in high school and college, then ultimately back to the Christian faith. But of course during college, I became educated as an evolutionary biologist/ecologist. The chapter tells the story of my life, in a nutshell.

The next chapter is titled - as it stands now - The Fish Wars. This introduces the whole debate over evolution and creationism from the perspective of me teaching biology at the community college where I worked for several years, and the interactions with my students. This chapter gives a good, simple overview of what evolution actually is - and what it isn't. The next chapter is In Search of the Holy Grail of Truth (Or, I Don’t Quite Understand Your Question) - and it's in progress, but covers my experience testifying at the Texas State Board of Education in 2003 and this year (well late 2008 - and there's another hearing next week!), conflicting views on "truth" and how and why people come to believe what we believe.

The next chapter, There is a Striking Resemblance Between You and a Monkey, is about my travels to Colorado to spend Easter with the Epperson family, who were involved in the landmark 1968 Supreme Court case Epperson v. Arkansas that essentially overturned the infamous 1929 Scopes Monkey Trial which confirmed that it was ok to make teaching (human) evolution illegal. I love the title of this chapter! It's actually what someone said in a letter to Susan Epperson during the time of the Supreme Court battle back in the 1960s. The things people say! Yes, as a matter of fact there is a striking resemblance between you (and me) and a monkey!

So that's where I'm at now, completing and organizing and writing these first few chapters - the first half of the book. I've already done the excursions and such for the rest of the chapters too (which include narrative chapters on young earth creationism, and one on intelligfent design, among others). I'm having a lot of fun with it all, and am very excited about my progress! Prayers are much appreciated!!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

New Texas SBOE science standards hearing

A few items of note. There's a new hearing of the Texas State Board of Education on the science textbook issue. By law they're required to have 2 hearings, and I blogged about my experience at the previous one. This one they're limiting to 4 hours max of testimony. So I may or may not get time to testify, depending on when I sign up on Friday - the only day they have open for signing up! But I'm going to Austin to meet up with and talk with folks from the National Center for SCience Education (NCSE) and others supportive of evolution.

Here's a press release about registration, which is tomorrow, Friday Jan 16, 2009, only.

Dear Texas Friends,

The Texas State Board of Education has an upcoming meeting on 21 January 2009 at which there will be an opportunity for the public to testify about the third TEKS draft.

The third and final TEKS draft has been released, and we feel that speakers should encourage the SBOE to adopt this draft. The third draft does not use the “strengths & limitations” language present in the second draft and is stronger scientifically than the previous drafts. However, the SBOE may decide to ignore these recommendations and cobble together their own Science TEKS at the last minute, which this board previously did for the English Language Arts TEKS.

To testify, you must register this Friday, 16 December, between 8 am and 5 pm (Central). Registration usually occurs on the Friday and Monday before the meeting; however, this time Monday is a holiday. Because there will be a 4-hour time limit on the testimony, we encourage potential speakers to sign up early on Friday. Each speaker is limited to 3 minutes, and should bring 35 handouts of the main points of his or her testimony.

According to the TEA website, you may register, by phone, fax, or in person by:
1. phone: 512-463-9007
2. fax: 512-936-4319 (on this form, chose “Full Board”:
3. in person: at the William B. Travis (WBT) State Office Building, 1701 N. Congress, Austin, Texas 78701

TEA webpage for testifying before Full Board:

TEA webpage for meeting (the details of the 21 January meeting are not yet
posted, but will be posted to this address):

The third TEKS draft:

On another note, I came across this interesting Pharyngula blog post, Texas has a problem, by PZ Myers about the state of Texas education...