One church in Richmond is going a step further and observing "Evolution Sunday" Feb. 12 the 197th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. A mass and discussion about the coexistence of evolution and biblical beliefs is planned at the Gentle Shepherd Church of Antioch on Ellwood Avenue, a small independent Catholic congregation that combines traditional liturgical worship with modern theology.
Tom Gallub, president of the parish council, believes this won't be a popular idea in Richmond, but says it's something that must be explored. "We consider this a gift to the world of believers that are having trouble compromising their own internal, intellectual feelings about religion with what is being dictated to them by others," he says. The mass is open to the public.
The debate over the merits of intelligent design and evolution has arisen from absolutism on both sides, says Ronald P. Byars, a former professor of preaching and worship at Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education. Some scientists overstep their bounds by declaring that evolution disproves God's existence, he says, and some Christians adhere to a rigidly literal description of Creation.
Some consider the Bible to be the verbatim, direct word of God "who dictated it word for word to the persons who wrote it down, like a secretary taking dictation," Byars says. Others believe the scriptures use language as a tool to explain the word of God, he says, and shouldn't always be taken literally.
Byars and the 38 other people who signed the letter (as of Jan. 19) are distinctly in the minority of Richmond's religious community. Yet Byars thinks that, if surveyed, Richmonders would lean away from the perspective that Darwin and Christianity are incompatible. "I think they'd be a little more modern," he says.