Back in October 2004, when the school board in Dover, Pa., voted to require a statement be read before ninth grade biology classes - "The theory [of evolution] is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence." - a drama began unfolding that has the potential to alter the future direction of the United States in ways not seen in generations.
The statement went on to recommend that students consult a book by a Christian publisher challenging evolution. According to school board member Alan Bonsell, the statement was the result of months of discussion on how "to bring prayer and faith back into the school."
Not long after the statement was introduced in the classrooms, six parents - including a couple of UCC members - fi led suit against the school system claiming that it was promoting a religious belief and was violating the establishment clause of the Constitution. Finally, just before Christmas, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III of Harrisburg, Pa., released his decision. Intelligent Design, the judge said, promoted religion and therefore had no real place in a science course.
This whole debate is deeply troubling to me. Raised in a southern "fundamentalist," (now-"evangelical") Christian church, we went to church twice on Sundays and prayer meetings on Wednesdays. I sang in the choir and in a Christian singing group. I also organized, led and preached at revivals. And, for what it is worth, I still believe that God lives and moves and changes things on this planet and in our lives.
However, in spite of all of that and in spite of my love of Jesus Christ as my savior today, I could not back then and cannot today, understand why anyone would ever want religion to go to battle against science to prove that the world was created by God instead of through evolution.
The Dover case is just one attempt by a much-larger and more-influential campaign to insist that the religious theory of Intelligent Design be accepted as equal to science. If that happened, it would ultimately do tremendous damage to the concept of faith.
Faith is the "assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). Faith comes about through a leap beyond the stability of knowable facts into the riskyness of trust in God. It is drawn forth from us by a love that cannot be measured or quantified. It brings about in us a sense of conviction, a sense of being pulled toward trust in and loyalty to the God who is beyond the limits of knowledge and facts.
The idea of a public school teaching my kids that a paleontologist can prove the existence of that deep, vast and mysterious God - by studying fossil forms in the rock record - is very unsettling. It would undermine the basic task of churches to help people find an intangible inner strength with which to cope with the growing madness and chaos of modern life.
The philosophy behind Intelligent Design implies that evidence of the mysterious ground of our being, that called God, can be discovered by studying such things as the amino acid sequences of key proteins. That desire to demonstrate God concretely is an ancient idolatry that was panned by the prophets and condemned by the church. It removes the gray areas of religion and denies us the soul-strengthening struggle with doubt that is a necessary forerunner for faithful conviction.
When I was in high school, a summer camp counselor once helped me out when I was trying to make sense of the resurrection. I told him I didn't understand it and that it was hard to believe. He told me that was just the point. It wasn't supposed to be easy. Part of our job as Christians, he said, was to reach and stretch and wrestle. If it was easy then we'd all be comfortable and stay in the same place developmentally all of our lives, and never grow in our faith or in the complexity of our beliefs.
If Intelligent Design is accepted in our school systems and in our culture, we may well create a whole generation of Protestant, Catholic, Muslim and Jewish children who will grow up thinking that belief in God is easy.
The Rev. Stan Duncan is pastor of Abingdon UCC in Massachusetts.