By Colleen Murphy
The Barenaked Ladies sing in “The Big Bang Theory’s” theme song, “Our whole universe was in a hot dense state, then nearly 14 billion years ago, expansion started,” spurring evolution. Over the years, scientists have found much evidence that supports evolution. However, according to Evergreen State College biology professor Michael Zimmerman, the United States is only second to Turkey in the Western World for having the largest amount of citizens who don’t believe in evolution.
To kick-off Evolution Weekend and celebrate Charles Darwin’s birthday, Zimmerman gave the presentation, “What the Evolution/Creation Debate Can Teach Us About the Relationship Between Religion and Science,” on Friday, Feb. 13, in Roscoe West, which explored why more Americans don’t believe in evolution.
“It’s difficult to imagine that we’re educating students — that we have an educated sensory — when the basic principle of evolution is so disregarded, disrespected and misunderstood, when it is so important,” Zimmerman said. “It’s anti-intellectual.”
He pointed out, though, that the point of his discussion was not to say which belief is right, but rather to have people understand that “the scientific method is important.”
“If you throw out evolution, if you question the basic premises of what evolution is and what we know about it from the last 150 years, you’ve thrown out the core of what biology is all about,” Zimmerman said. “Studying biology without having a framework of evolution is like studying history just by memorizing dates, not having any other context. No one would do that — no meaningful progress would be made.”
The biologist also wanted the audience to walk away from the event understanding that there is a way for religion and science to coincide and that the two are actually compatible.
In an effort to do so, Zimmerman discussed the Clergy Letter Project, a campaign he started in 2004 to bring religion and science together. As of Saturday, Feb. 14, almost 13,000 Christian clergy members from around the U.S. have signed a letter stating that they want evolution to be taught in schools and “that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.” As one clergy member pointed out, the two have different purposes, with religion’s being to “transform hearts.”
There are three other letters on Zimmerman’s site from three other religions that explain how they believe religions and science can co-exist. The letter from America’s rabbis has 514 signatures, while 285 Unitarian Universalist and 24 Buddhist clergy members have signed their faith’s respective letters.
Ariel Moskowitz, a sophomore biology major, was surprised to hear that some religious figures and clergymen also supported the theory of evolution and said she found Zimmerman’s lecture interesting.
“I personally believe in evolution, and it was very refreshing to think about how evolution and religion can coincide,” Moskowitz said. “I always assumed you couldn’t believe in both evolution and creationism, but Zimmerman showed how they aren’t mutually exclusive.”
Zimmerman believes the intersection of religion and science and creationism and evolution is important, but what he cautioned the audience of was fundamentalist beliefs on both sides, saying those beliefs are “equally wrong and counterproductive.”
“Only by combating fundamentalism can we generate respect for religion and ensure high quality science education,” Zimmerman said, adding that he believes there is no reason for someone to have to choose between the two entities.