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Readers Believe in Evolution

Some questioned the poll topic last week, religion on an urban blog? Well, yes. The two are not mutually exclusive, at least not for some like Eric Jacobson:

Eric Jacobsen the author of Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith (Brazos Press, 2003) as well as numerous articles on New Urbanism (see related articles). He is a member of the Congress For the New Urbanism and a participant in the Colloquim on Theology and the Built Environment sponsored by St. Andrews University and the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship at Calvin College. He is a full-time student at Fuller Theological Seminary where he is pursuing a PhD in Theology and Culture. He is currently living in Passadena with his wife (Liz) and three children (Katherine – 7, Peter – 4, and Emma – 3). Formerly, he was the Associate Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Missoula, MT.

With just 16.1% of the general population indicating no religious affiliation (Pew) the results ended up far different than I originally thought they would:

Q: Which of the following comes closest to your view on the origin and development of human beings?

  1. Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process 70 [63.64%]
  2. Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process 29 [26.36%]
  3. God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time in the last 10,000 years or so 11 [10%]

This is interesting since the results are the opposite of the Gallop Poll this was based on:

Gallup has asked Americans to choose among these three explanations for the origin and development of human beings 11 times since 1982. Although the percentages choosing each view have varied from survey to survey, the 46% who today choose the creationist explanation is virtually the same as the 45% average over that period — and very similar to the 44% who chose that explanation in 1982. The 32% who choose the “theistic evolution” view that humans evolved under God’s guidance is slightly below the 30-year average of 37%, while the 15% choosing the secular evolution view is slightly higher (12%).

Pew has found similar results:

White evangelical Protestants are particularly likely to believe that humans have existed in their present form since the beginning of time. Roughly two-thirds (64%) express this view, as do half of black Protestants (50%). By comparison, only 15% of white mainline Protestants share this opinion.

They offer much more detail here.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is agnostic  
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson hosts COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey

Even the term “creationist” has nuances:

Do “creationists” necessarily oppose an evolutionary understanding of the history of nature and the origins of species and humanity?

No. In principle all members of the three western monotheisms (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) are “creationists” in that they believe the order of nature exists because a reality beyond nature, commonly called “God”, is the ultimate cause of all existence. In this sense of the word, many creationists accept an evolutionary understanding of natural history. However, at least four types of creationism can be identified, and each has a distinctive view of the evolutionary sciences and human origins.

“Young-Earth” creationists hold that the sacred text provides an inerrant account of how the universe, all life and humankind came into existence; namely, in six 24-hour days, some 6-10,000 years ago. Human beings were created through a direct act of divine intervention in the order of nature.

“Old-Earth” creationists hold that the sacred text is an infallible account of why the universe, all life and humankind came into existence, but accepts that the “days” of creation are metaphorical and could represent very long periods of time. While many aspects of nature may be the consequence of direct acts of divine creation, at very least they hold that the very beginning of the universe, the origin of life and the origin of humankind are the consequence of distinct acts of divine intervention in the order of nature.

Theistic evolutionists also hold that the sacred text provides an infallible account of why the universe, all life and humankind came into existence. However, they also hold that for the most part, the diversity of nature from stars to planets to living organisms, including the human body, is a consequence of the divine using processes of evolution to create indirectly. Still, for many who hold this position, the very beginning of the universe, the origin of life, and the origin of what is distinctive about humankind are the consequence of direct acts of divine intervention in the order of nature.

Evolutionary theists hold that the sacred text, while giving witness to the ultimate divine source of all of nature, in no way specifies the means of creation. Further, they hold that the witness of creation itself is that the divine creates only indirectly through evolutionary processes without any intervention in the order of nature. (The Smithsonian’s Science, Religion, Evolution and Creationism: Primer)

As an Anti-Theist (atheist), I believe what many of us have learned through scientific research. Each sunday night for the last couple of months I’ve been tuning in to see COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey.  In terms of St. Louis, these results tell me over 35% will continue to believe something regardless of facts to the contrary. With such numbers it is hard to change perceptions about place in our region. This show has religious folks upset, resulting in an Oklahoma Fox channel “accidentally: cutting out a mention of evolution and weekly stories like this:

Conservative Christians are really mad about the reboot of the legendary science series Cosmos, starring Neil deGrasse Tyson. The complaint? That an ancient myth about creation invented by Hebrews thousands of years ago is not being included in a show that is there to teach science. Christian conservatives have been taking to the airwaves complaining about the non-inclusion of ancient myths in a science program, with Danny Faulkner of Answers in Genesis whining, “Creationists aren’t even on the radar screen for them,” and Elizabeth Mitchell of the same organization decrying the show for having “blind faith in evolution.” (“Cosmic” meltdown! Neil deGrasse Tyson under siege from Christian right)

I’m just thankful for the separation of church and state!

— Steve Patterson

 

Poll: View on the Origin and Development of Human Beings

Please vote in the poll, located in the right sidebar
Please vote in the poll, located in the right sidebar

Millions have been tuning in Sunday evenings to see COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey on Fox, Mondays on National Geographic. Since the March 9th debut the show some have been upset by the presentation of evolution rather than creation.

The Cosmos reboot was fairly generous as far as leaving room for religious interpretation goes. But apparently, one Fox affiliate station in Oklahoma City decided there was still just a little too much science talk for their liking, so they cut out the 15-second mention of evolution. (Gizmodo)  

That Fox station says the 15-second cut of evolution from the first episode was an “accident.” Right. The poll this week is from a 2012 Gallop poll, here’s a look at the question and answers:

Which of the following comes closest to your view on the origin and development of human beings?

  • Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process
  • Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process
  • God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time in the last 10,000 years or so

The poll is in the right sidebar, the answers will be presented in a random order to each viewer.

— Steve Patterson

 

Edwardsville School Board Considering $1.3 Million for Elementary School Parking Lot, Razing Historic Church

Parking is a perceived issue all over the region, even in small towns like Edwardsville IL. The public school district is considering purchasing a historic church, and an adjacent house owned by the church, to create more parking for Columbus elementary school:

The general terms of the proposed sale, which are all subject to approval by both the First Presbyterian Church congregation and the District 7 Board of Education, are that the district will pay First Presbyterian Church $1.3 million from impact fees over a 10-year period. Impact fees are money collected from developers who build homes in Edwardsville and Glen Carbon. The fees can only be used for new construction or the purchase of property.

The other terms of the negotiation are that First Presbyterian Church would have four years to vacate the existing church facility, and the church would be responsible for preparing the ground to leave a clean, level site. (District 7 looks to turn church into parking lot)

The $1.3 million is just for the land, it’ll cost more to actually develop the parking lot.

Columbus Elementary just east of Main Street in downtown Edwardsville, click for map
Columbus Elementary just east of Main Street in downtown Edwardsville, click for map
Graphic showing staff parking (left) and parent parking (right)    Source: Edwardsville Intelligencer, click for story
Graphic showing staff parking (left) and parent parking (right)
Source: Edwardsville Intelligencer, click for story

A friend drove me over to Edwardsville last week so I could check it out in person. What we found is the school has a small parking lot for staff, a large asphalt playground, and has use of a couple of small parking lot owned by the church. No doubt when the church has a weekday event, like a funeral, parking gets tight. Otherwise both appear to have coexisted for decades.

Looking west on College, the church-owned lot on the left wasn't full at 9:15am last Thursday morning
Looking west on College, the church-owned lot on the left wasn’t full at 9:15am last Thursday morning
Back parking lot of school appeared full
Back parking lot of school appeared full
Parking on school grounds on the west side of the building was completely vacant
Parking on school grounds on the west side of the building was completely vacant

I don’t live in Edwardsville, nor am I a parent, so I turned to the Edwardsville School District 7 Parents group on Facebook to see the discussion. There were several postings, here’s some quotes I selected from hundreds:

Feb 26: “Anyone know why Columbus needs a $1.3 million parking lot? More than say, teams, all tenth graders on campus, enough honors classes, a daily middle school band/orchestra program?” — LW

“because there is ZERO parking at the school and the church next door was kind enough to let the school “share” their parking lot. The church is moving and the new owners may not be as accommodating!” — LC 

“We always parked in that lot…..sad to see the church go…I went to preschool in that church” — JG

“The church isn’t moving unless the building is purchased. We’ve always worked with the district for parking and that’s not a big deal. My ‘big deal’ is a $1.3 million parking lot. I have a 7th grader who can’t have team teaching or have band every day because there’s no money, a junior who spent 40 minute a day last year being transported off campus because there weren’t enough classrooms, and it makes no sense financially. If there’s money to buy property and or build something with, maybe an addition to the high school would be a goal to look toward.” — LW

Feb 26: “Is it true that the Presbyterian Church property was assessed at $750,000? If so, wouldn’t that lend one to believe that the tax payers are indeed paying for demolition?” — TM

It appears the parents in the district are split; some say the parking situation is poor, while others say parking has always been bad but the district has higher priorities. I do know the school & church have managed to share parking in the area for years but it the church is razed much of the parking will sit empty each day.

This is all possible because some members of the dwindling congregation at the First Presbyterian Church of Edwardsville want to build a new church nearly 4 miles away. This isn’t new, they bought 28+ acres of farmland in January 2000, paying $390,000. In November 2006 I posted how they voted to build on the farmland.

The future church location is on the far east edge of town, away from downtown and the new sprawl shopping.
The future church location is on the far east edge of town, away from downtown Edwardsville and their new shopping area. Click image to view map.
The church hopes to sell 20 acres to partially  fund the new building on the remaining land
The church hopes to sell 20 acres to partially fund the new building on the remaining land
First Presbyterian was founded in 1819, moved to this site in 1885. The current building was dedicated on the same site in 1924.
First Presbyterian was founded in 1819, moved to this site in 1885. The current building was dedicated on the same site in 1924.

Attendance at the church has reportedly dropped in the 7 years since voting to proceed with the plan to build a new church.  I can see the church agreeing to sell  — but in four years still not having a new building ready. Then what? Also, does the school district not have more pressing building needs?

— Steve Patterson

 

Not All African-American’s Worship(ed) a Deity

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is agnostic
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is agnostic. Photo by David Gamble, 2008.

I couldn’t let February go by without one post on Black History. I know you’re thinking, “what can a white guy have to add to a dialog about black history?”  Well, I can address one aspect of black history that’s often either ignored or deliberately hidden: African-American atheists/agnostics. They don’t fit the accepted narrative of African-Americans as all religious.  Still, the nonreligious is a small percentage:

Slightly more than one-in-ten African-Americans (12%) report being unaffiliated with any particular religion. Although the unaffiliated make up a smaller proportion of the African-American community (12%) than of the adult population overall (16%), the unaffiliated still constitute the third largest “religious” tradition within the black community. However, very few African-Americans (1%) describe themselves as atheist or agnostic. Instead, most unaffiliated African-Americans (11% of African-Americans overall) simply describe their religion as “nothing in particular.” Indeed, among the African-American unaffiliated population, a significant majority (72%) says religion is at least somewhat important in their lives. (A Religious Portrait of African-Americans — recommended)

One of the current top freethinkers is the brilliant astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium:

Tyson is the recipient of eighteen honorary doctorates and the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, the highest award given by NASA to a non-government citizen. His contributions to the public appreciation of the cosmos have been recognized by the International Astronomical Union in their official naming of asteroid 13123 Tyson. On the lighter side, Tyson was voted Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive by People Magazine in 2000.

In February 2012, Tyson released his tenth book, containing every thought he has ever had on the past, present, and future of space exploration: Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier. Currently, Tyson is working on a 21st century reboot of Carl Sagan’s landmark television series COSMOS, to air in 13 episodes on the FOX network in the spring of 2014. (bio)

He’s one of the leading defenders of science, working to keep creationism out of science classrooms, here’s a few quotes:  

I don’t have an issue with what you do in the church, but I’m going to be up in your face if you’re going to knock on my science classroom and tell me they’ve got to teach what you’re teaching in your Sunday school. Because that’s when we’re going to fight.

Whenever people have used religious documents to make accurate predictions about our base knowledge of the physical world, they have been famously wrong.

Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes…. The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms.

If all that you see, do, measure and discover is the will of a deity, then ideas can never be proven wrong, you have no predictive power, and you are at a loss to understand the principles behind most of the fundamental interconnections of nature.

There’s no tradition of scientists knocking down the Sunday school door, telling the preacher, That might not necessarily be true. That’s never happened. There’re no scientists picketing outside of churches.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is a popular celebrity, appearing on shows like Moyers & Company and The Daily Show, for example. Yes, a scientist as a celebrity!

In 2012 USA Today did a story on some 20th Century African-Americans who rejected a deity, here’s their list:

James Baldwin (1924-1987), poet, playwright, civil rights activist

Once a Pentecostal preacher, Baldwin’s 1963 book, The Fire Next Time, describes how “being in the pulpit was like being in the theatre; I was behind the scenes and knew how the illusion worked.” Baldwin never publicly declared his atheism, but he was critical of religion. “If the concept of God has any validity or any use,” he wrote, “it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of him.”

W.E.B DuBois (1868-1963), co-founder of the NAACP

Columbia University professor Manning Marable wrote that DuBois’ 1903 work, The Souls of Black Folk, “helped to create the intellectual argument for the black freedom struggle in the 20th century.” DuBois described himself as a freethinker and was sometimes critical of the black church, which he said was too slow in supporting or promoting racial equality.

Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965), playwright and journalist

Hansberry’s partly autobiographical play A Raisin in the Sun, shocked Broadway audiences when a black character declared, “God is just one idea I don’t accept. … It’s just that I get so tired of him getting credit for all the things the human race achieves through its own stubborn effort. There simply is no God! There is only man, and it’s he who makes miracles!” She worked with W.E.B. DuBois and Paul Robeson on an African-American progressive newspaper, but her life was cut short at age 34 by cancer.

Hubert Henry Harrison (1883-1927), activist, educator, writer

Harrison promoted positive racial consciousness among African-Americans and is credited with influencing A. Philip Randolph and the godfather of black nationalism, Marcus Garvey. Harrison proudly declared his atheism and wrote, “Show me a population that is deeply religious and I will show you a servile population, content with whips and chains, … content to eat the bread of sorrow and drink the waters of affliction.”

A. Philip Randolph (1889-1979), labor organizer

Randolph was the founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first predominantly black union. He helped convince President Franklin Roosevelt to desegregate military production factories during World War II, and organized the 1963 March on Washington with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. In 1973, Randolph signed the Humanist Manifesto II, a public declaration of Humanist principles. He is reported to have said of prayer: “Our aim is to appeal to reason. … Prayer is not one of our remedies; it depends on what one is praying for. We consider prayer nothing more than a fervent wish; consequently the merit and worth of a prayer depend upon what the fervent wish is.”

Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950), journalist and historian

In 1926, Woodson proposed “Negro History Week,” which later evolved into Black History Month. In 1933, he wrote in The Mis-Education of the Negro that “the ritualistic churches into which these Negroes have gone do not touch the masses, and they show no promising future for racial development. Such institutions are controlled by those who offer the Negroes only limited opportunity and then sometimes on the condition that they be segregated in the court of the gentiles outside of the temple of Jehovah.”

Richard Wright (1908-1960), novelist and author

In his memoir Black Boy, Wright wrote, “Before I had been made to go to church, I had given God’s existence a sort of tacit assent, but after having seen his creatures serve him at first hand, I had had my doubts. My faith, as it was, was welded to the common realities of life, anchored in the sensations of my body and in what my mind could grasp, and nothing could ever shake this faith, and surely not my fear of an invisible power.” (USAToday — Blacks say atheists were unseen civil rights heroes)

Another is Langston Hughes

Hughes associated religious authority with other oppressive forces in contemporary America. As one of America’s forgotten black atheists, he was easily an expert on prejudice. (And if being black, allegedly communist, and atheist didn’t subject him to enough prejudice, there were always the rumors that he was gay.) (5 Famous Americans You Never Knew Were Atheists)

Today there’s organizations like African Americans for Humanism to alter the narrative:

African Americans may be the nation’s most religious minority, but the churches and religious leaders don’t speak for many of us.

Today as in the past, many African Americans question religion and religious institutions. More and more of us stand for reason over faith. Freethought over authority. Critical thinking in place of superstition. Many of us are nonreligious; some are nontheistic.

African Americans for Humanism supports skeptics, doubters, humanists, and atheists in the African American community, provides forums for communication and education, and facilitates coordinated action to achieve shared objectives.

The nearest chapter is Kansas City.

Hopefully this post provided a bit of history you weren’t aware of before.

— Steve Patterson

 

Poll: Will Your Household Have a Christmas Tree? If So, What Type?

ABOVE: Christmas 1972-ish with me (right) and my brother Randy (left)
Christmas 1972-ish with me (right) and my brother Randy (left)

When my boyfriend moved in with me in February he said he’ll wanted to put up Christmas decorations, including a tree.  I’m atheist and he’s agnostic, but Christmas is one of his favorite holidays. It was a long way off so I agreed.

A Christmas tree in a non-Christian home? Sure, a recent study even showed that Christmas trees appear in some Jewish households too:

About a third of Jews (32%) say they had a Christmas tree in their home last year, including 27% of Jews by religion and 51% of Jews of no religion. Erecting a Christmas tree is especially common among Jews who are married to non-Jews; 71% of this group says they put up a tree last year.

Compared with younger Jews, those 65 and older are somewhat less likely to have had a Christmas tree last year. And relatively few Orthodox Jews, including just 1% of Ultra-Orthodox Jews, say there was a Christmas tree in their home last year. (Pew Research)

By ’73 or ’74 we stopped using the aluminum tree, we got a new green artificial tree from Montgomery Ward or Sears. We never had a cut tree. My maternal grandparents were very religious Mennonites, but they never had a tree of any kind. Probably deemed too flashy.

For budget reasons we got a very small white artificial tree for this year, adorned with four South Park ornaments I had. We also decorated our front door.  For next year I’m not crazy about a cut tree — what he’s used to. Why should a tree have to die just to hold lights & ornaments for a few weeks?

Next year I’d like to do a live Christmas tree, I just need to figure out where it’ll get planted after we’re done with it. Can it get planted in a city park?

The poll question this week asks if your household will have a tree and, if so, what type? The poll is in the right sidebar, results will be published on Wednesday December 25th.

— Steve Patterson

 

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