Darwin Meets Jesus

RANDOLPH – There are few topics that create more tension than the idea of evolution versus theology, which will be in the spotlight of a webinar at the United Presbyterian Church of Randolph on Wednesday.

The talk, entitled “Not Afraid of Darwin or Christ,” is being hosted to continue the discussion of the relationship between evolution and theology. Registration for the event begins at 6:30, with the webinar running from 7-8:30 p.m. The United Presbyterian Church of Randolph received a $15,000 grant from the John Templeton Foundation to use specifically on programming related to science and faith.

The John Templeton Foundation, which was established in 1987, supports research on subjects including evolution, infinity, creativity, free will and more, and actively encourages civil, informed dialogues between scientists, philosophers and theologians.

“(The John Templeton Foundation) is a group that has a considerable amount of money to award to organizations for all aspects of faith,” said the Rev. Leslie Latham of the United Presbyterian Church. “They wanted to give money to congregations to coordinate an effort to see how science and faith can work together.”

According to Latham, there are several members of the congregation who have scientific tendencies, and there has been a series of workshops conducted, but they’ve mostly covered topics such as astrophysics and astronomy.

“The idea for this talk came from the host organization that was in charge of overseeing the grants,” said Latham. “Each church chose different topics for the previous workshops, but the (John Templeton Foundation) decided to host a webinar, which was this specific topic of ‘Not Afraid of Darwin or Christ.’ We, because we’d done the series of workshops, decided that we wanted to participate, and that it would be another good topic to explore.”

Despite the oftentimes contentious topic, Latham says that there has been a very positive reaction from members of the congregation at previous workshops. A cursory search on the Internet will turn up hundreds of pages devoted to the arguments for one side or the other, with heated conversations the norm.

“We were a bit trepidatious because it can be a contentious topic,” said Latham. “We’ve found, though, through our series of five workshops, that people are open to hearing about science and faith. We’re not trying to separate aspects of life into indistinct fields. The people that come to these workshops say, ‘Science has some resonance in my faith, and faith can impact how I look at science and the world.’ We don’t have a lot of creationists in our church, or if we do they’ve been very quiet, so we tend to look at the Bible more as a manual of faith and not a science textbook.”

The webinar, which will be hosted by Dr. Conor Cunningham and Dr. Agustin Fuentes, fellows of the Center of Theological Inquiry at Princeton, will tackle several different topics, including evolution, theology, why there is fear from both sides of the spectrum and will end with a discussion on human nature and the interface between faith, knowledge and understanding.

“The reaction to these workshops has just been absolutely wonderful, and people have been very grateful to have this information,” said Latham. “People are very interested to hear what the universe consists of – if there’s life on other planets, the idea that there could be more than one universe. I was an English major, so I’ve had a very steep learning curve, but people have been very receptive, and they’ve wanted to do more with it.”

One group from the congregation, the “Grannies Doing Physics,” went through several difficult books and had discussions on the topics outside of the workshops that were held by the church.

“They were all women of a certain age, and the leader was a gentleman who is a retired physics teacher,” said Latham. “They went through six or eight books and had pretty intense discussions. By no means did they all agree, but they held firm to the idea of civil discourse.”

This grant from the John Templeton Foundation was a one-time deal for United Presbyterian, but the foundation will be going forward in other areas to continue providing grants for these types of discussions.

“I’m just glad that we got into it,” said Latham.

Wednesday’s webinar is free to the public, and healthy snacks will be provided as part of a new, healthy eating initiative that the church has started. Call the church at 358-4255 to register or for more information.