Today is the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth–and this year is also the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s “On the Origin of the Species.”  Even though Darwin’s discoveries are over a century old, they are still revolutionary to many people. The idea that random mutation and natural selection can explain the diversity of all living things, that we humans are part of a long evolutionary chain–to many, these are troubling ideas. As a Darwin critic once said, “I didn’t come from a monkey.”

Polls show that over half of the American public rejects the theory of evolution. And lest we think that we as a nation are singularly ignorant about science, a British poll released last week revealed that half of the British population doesn’t believe in evolution either.

This ignorance has serious consequences. In order for the US to be competitive in the global market, we need an educational system that teaches real science–not religion disguised as science. In order for us to be effective citizens, able to participate in decisions about scientific technologies that affect our lives, we need to be scientifically literate, and we need to connect our knowledge in an informed way to our moral and religious values.

How do we do that? There are no quick or easy answers. But part of the answer lies in greater familiarity, understanding and respect between religion and science. At the Center for American Progress, we’re doing our part by collaborating on projects with our religion and science policy teams. Yesterday we held an event with scientists, bio-ethicists and religious scholars to examine Darwin’s influence on science, religion and society.

In addition, the National Academy of Sciences has a project that supports the compatibility of science and religion

The United Church of Christ has created Not Mutually Exclusive that connects religion to science and technology.

And this weekend, the Clergy Letter Project is sponsoring its annual evolution weekend, with participation by nearly 950 congregations in all 50 states. 

These efforts are a good sign because the alleged incompability between religion and science is an over simplification and a distortion. The truth is that there is great diversity within both science and religion–neither is a monolithic entity. In fact, at their best, science and religion share many of the same traits and values. Honesty, openness, tolerance, curiosity–and yes, doubt.

And just as science and religion are varied and complex, so are individual human beings. Within us all is a mixture of rationality and belief, skepticism and trust. We rely upon facts and evidence, but we also need mystery and transcendence.

Given the many urgent issues facing the world, from global warming to pandemic disease, it is in our self interest to know each other–and while not papering over real differences, to search for areas of common ground. And then we need to roll up our sleeves and pitch in on the daunting work facing us all.

Darwin once said… “In the long history of humankind…. those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”

To that, I say amen.

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