Just in Time for Darwin Sunday, Washington Post Misses the Point

I’m not sure what’s going on with the Washington Post’s On Faith blog. I would think that a religion blogger for such an important publication as the Post would have a better grasp of the basic tenets of most world religions. And yet, in a post last week, Julia Duin maintained:

Evolution runs directly counter to most major world religions, which teach that God created the world in some form or another.

Before blogging for the Washington Post, Duin had worked 14 years at the right-wing Washington Times, which is owned by Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, until she was dismissed in June for speaking out against her newspaper’s policies. She has been a religion writer for her entire career.

Really? Just off the top of my head I can think of a few major religions that have no trouble reconciling evolution with faith, including Judaism, Catholicism, Buddhism, and all non-fundamentalist versions of Protestantism, such as, for instance, the United Methodist Church.

Duin was writing about a recent study, which I wrote about here, which indicates that one in eight biology teachers are teaching creationism in the classroom. Duin takes a rather sympathetic view to those creationist and intelligent design-spouting teachers and wonders whether it’s fair to make them teach evolution when they don’t accept it. For some reason, Duin leaves out a discussion of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause and the litany of federal court rulings against teaching creationism/intelligent design or banning the teaching of evolution in public school science classes. Specifically, Duin should read the US Supreme Court decision of 1968’s Epperson v. Arkansas, in which the Court ruled that laws banning the teaching of evolution were unconstitutional because they were based solely on a religious view.

Interestingly enough, Duin’s statements come just before Darwin week, a celebration of Charles Darwin’s birthday, which falls on Saturday this year.

I emailed Duin’s story to Michael Zimmerman, the founder of the Clergy Letter Project, an organization that seeks to foster greater understanding and appreciation of life’s amazing and inspiring diversity through the process of evolution. In addition to collecting signatures from religious leaders embracing scientific thought, it also encourages pastors to devote this Sunday’s sermon to Darwin and evolution and the relationship between religion and science. This is project’s sixth year and the project has collected more than 13,000 signatures. This year, organizers are encouraging religious leaders to devote their sermons to the environment. For a list of participating places of worship near you, go here.

From the Clergy Letter Project’s statement:

Religious people from many diverse faith traditions and locations around the world understand that evolution is quite simply sound science; and for them, it does not in any way threaten, demean, or diminish their faith in God. In fact, for many, the wonders of science often enhance and deepen their awe and gratitude towards God.

I wanted to find out what Zimmerman thought of Duin’s assertion that evolution runs counter to most religion. This is his response:

Although some claim that evolution is at odds with the beliefs of most religions, the truth is very different from that perspective. If you look at the basic tenets of the world’s religions, as Joel Martin has in his book The Prism and the Rainbow, you’ll see that religions and denominations representing a large majority of adherents across the globe are fully comfortable with evolution. Similarly, The Clergy Letter Project, with its more than 13,000 American clergy from various traditions, fully demonstrates how deeply religious individuals can be fully comfortable with their faith and the basic principles of modern science. The perspective that evolution must be rejected by those who are religious is nothing more than an oft repeated myth, promoted by some who want to advance both their political causes and their narrow religious perspective. For so many others, the wonders of evolutionary theory in particular and the amazing discoveries of science in general have served to deepen their religious faith.

I sincerely hope Washington Post’s religion editors take note of Duin’s factual inaccuracy, which cries out for a correction. A newspaper of the Post’s reputation owes far more to its readers than to print blog posts of different viewpoints to generate buzz, without regard to the facts. Duin’s just-so assertion, which was not backed up by a shred of evidence, shows a woeful lack of understanding of her beat, and insults the beliefs of the countless people of faith she so casually dismissed.

laurilebo@gmail.com'

Lauri Lebo is the author of The Devil in Dover: Dogma v. Darwin in Small-Town America, a book about the 2005 First Amendment trial of Kitzmiller v. Dover in which intelligent design was ruled creationism.