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Methodism supports teaching of evolution Albert C. “Al” Kuelling, Jul 31, 2008
By Albert C. “Al” Kuelling Special Contributor
The United Methodist Church’s General Conference 2008 quietly moved Methodism into the 21st century by passing three “evolution-friendly” petitions, putting us alongside many other denominations in recognizing that science and theology are compatible rather than contradictory.
From the religious mistakes of the late Middle Ages, many denominations have learned that repressing science is often counterproductive to good religion. In 1600, the church burned Italian cosmologist Giordano Bruno at the stake for speculating that intelligent life might exist somewhere beyond Earth.
Shortly after, Galileo was threatened with the same fate during his inquisition. His heresy? Teaching that the Earth is not the center of the universe. Galileo recanted to save his life, but was put under house arrest for the last decade of his life.
Learning from the past, some denominations now understand that new findings about the natural universe often represent new revelations of the mysteries of God’s creation and Word. They increase, rather than detract from, our awe and reverence for almighty God’s capabilities.
At the 2008 General Conference, three petitions made the following changes to United Methodist documents:
Petition 80050: accepts evolution and corrects some ambiguities under “Science and Technology” in the Book of Discipline.
Petition 80990: endorses The Clergy Letter Project and its reconciliatory programs between religion and science and urges United Methodist clergy participation, in Resolution 11, “God’s Creation and the Church” in the Book of Resolutions.
Petition 80839: creates a new resolution, “Evolution and Intelligent Design,” in the Book of Resolutions: “The United Methodist Church goes on record as opposing the introduction of any faith-based theories such as Creationism or Intelligent Design into the science curriculum of our public schools.”
Historically Methodism has sidestepped honest dialogue about the interface between religion and science, especially about evolution. This appears to have been done out of fear that accepting the findings of science—for instance, that evolution is an established scientific cornerstone, especially in biological fields—might incur the wrath of creationists within Methodism.
The resulting effect had been an implication that The National Academies of Science and hundreds of scientists worldwide over the last century and a half are wrong.
The large voting percentage in passing the three evolution petitions is evidence that the leadership of the United Methodist Church recognizes the need to change this situation. So Methodism is joining many other denominations around the world that find no conflict between religion and science.
Many young folk have left the church because they have not been thoroughly grounded in the understanding that God uses metaphors, beautiful stories and other means to enhance understanding of religious principles. Thus, when there appears to be a conflict—albeit a needless one—between religion and science, they quietly leave.
Young people typically don’t say how important this issue is to them because they don’t want to insult those they leave behind by saying their religion is out-of-touch with reality.
Now that the Discipline has been revised to include evolution as an accepted finding of science (Petition 80050), the question becomes, “How do we get this message out to our United Methodist congregations?”
The Clergy Letter Project presents a statement that clergy may endorse. More than 11,000 clergy—many of them United Methodists—signed The Clergy Letter before Petition 80990 was even presented.
The project parallels the Science and Technology section of our Discipline in stating that religion and science are not adversarial—both speak truths—and that religion should not be legislated into the science classroom.
The project has the enviable track record of being an interdenominational movement with demonstrated successes in ameliorating the battle some Christians pick with science.
The Clergy Letter Project also offers a rich variety of materials that clergy can use in their own congregations to help teach how science enhances our respect for God’s works, rather than being at odds with religion.
Mr. Kuelling, a member of First Wayne Street UMC in Fort Wayne, Ind., is retired from a career in physics. He wrote two of the petitions accepted at the 2008 General Conference related to science and faith.