Weekend devoted to science, religion

San Mateo County Times

Congregations worldwide to explore dichotomy, express support of evolutionBy Christine Morente BELMONT — Tom Tan does not have problems attesting that God is the architect of life. In fact, the biochemist has faith that evolution didn't just happen by accident.

"We're learning more and more about how cells work, how DNA is regulated, how RNA is regulated, and how protein is regulated," the San Francisco resident said. "It's incredibly complex. It's hard for me to imagine that molecules came about, and all of a sudden we have life."

Tan, 33, is a member of the Congregational Church of Belmont. He thinks that science and faith go hand in hand, and he's pleased that he's not the only one.

This weekend, many congregations across the country and around the world will participate in Evolution Weekend, starting Friday and ending on Sunday.

Charles Darwin's birthday is Feb. 12. The British naturalist said all species have evolved from one or a few common ancestors through the process of natural selection.

Meanwhile, in January, Pope Benedict XVI was outspoken in warning the devout about science, while other clergy leaders have maintained that the world was created 6,000 years ago, and that humans are direct descendants of Adam and Eve.

The Congregational Church of Belmont is one of a few congregations in San Mateo County that will look at religion and science — to emphasize that the two theories should complement each other rather than be adversarial.

"We see science as one of the ways God speaks to us," said the Rev. Kristi

Denham. "The facts of science are constantly drawing us toward awe. The more you know, the more you see how wonderful the universe is. Awe is the most sacred of feelings."

On Sunday, Denham will discuss Michael Dowd's book, "Thank God for Evolution!" Her congregation has participated in Evolution Weekend the last three years.

It was while working at a church in Atlanta that Denham was faced with the perceived split between science and religion.

A teenager in her congregation created a Web site called "Creationism v. Evolution." Denham said that because the 16-year-old got some nasty hits on the site, he committed suicide.

That pushed her to open up the discussion.

"We need to say that the sacred does include the use of our brains," Denham said. "That we are able to be whole human beings and still believe in God. Church can be a place to celebrate God's mystery, and we can have good questions and not have easy answers."

Evolution Weekend was started three years ago by Michael Zimmerman, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Butler University in Indianapolis.

He is the founder of the Clergy Letter Project, more than 11,000 Christian clergy members in America who agree that "religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth."

Pastor Dan Smith of Holy Trinity Lutheran in San Carlos said he happily signed on to Zimmerman's message a couple of years ago.

Smith said that science and theology are in an over-inflated war which some people think science is winning and religion is losing, and vice versa.

What he won't do on Sunday is turn the worship service into a debate. What Smith will do is show there is another way of viewing the two fields.

"Science gives us a clear sense of what is out there, and it answers the forensic questions humans are faced with," he said. "But it doesn't ask the 'why' questions like 'Where are we going?' So we need ethics, philosophy and religion."

Danielle Chamberlin, a scientist who lives in Belmont, said science and religion are fairly independent of one another.

"Certainly, I don't think my faith would preclude any interest in science," the 32-year-old said. "To me, the faith part is appreciating the complexity of human interaction."

However, Tan said faith has helped him to become patient as a scientist, since nine out of 10 experiments don't work.

"For me, I feel God is going to reveal the truth," he said. "It's easy to be discouraged in science."