Our Church Shut the Doors to Discovery Institute: Thoughts from Two United Methodists
"Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors" -- so says the motto of the United Methodist Church (UMC), to which we both belong. Given that, the UMC should be the most welcoming of churches. You would expect them to welcome, for example, a fresh perspective on the relationship of faith and science, including the scientific evidence for intelligent design observed in the natural world. If that is what you expect, however, you would be wrong.
As others have detailed here at Evolution News, a request by Discovery Institute simply to have an information table at the upcoming quadrennial General Conference was denied on the grounds that our advocacy of ID is in violation of the UMC's 2008 statement on "Evolution and Intelligent Design." The statement says as follows:
WHEREAS, The United Methodist Church has for many years supported the separation of church and State (� 164C, Book of Discipline, 2004, p. 119);
Therefore, be it resolved, that the General Conference of The United Methodist Church go on record as opposing the introduction of any faith-based theories such as Creationism or Intelligent Design into the science curriculum of our public schools.
Regular readers of ENV will readily see that, in banning us on these grounds, the UMC relied upon gross misinformation. For one thing, the church treats ID and creationism as equivalent, a falsehood we've addressed many times here over the years. More to the point, Discovery Institute has consistently opposed pushing ID, not to mention creationism, into public schools. And intelligent design is not "faith-based," it is entirely science-based. With all this in mind, and making our relevant positions clear in an exchange of correspondence with church officials, Discovery Institute naturally appealed the initial decision.
However, this was to no avail. Our appeal was rejected on the additional grounds that somehow what we advocate at Discovery Institute contradicts the statements on "Social Principles" in the Book of Discipline.
Speaking as United Methodists who also advocate for intelligent design and are associated with Discovery Institute, we find the reasons behind the decision flimsy, flawed, and hypocritical. The statement referenced above is clearly not predicated on the facts. ID is a scientific proposition based upon inference and abductive reasoning, seeking to identify specific markers of intelligent cause in natural systems. While we recognize there are potential theological implications of this, just as there are for Darwinian theory with its denial of life's design, the science of ID makes no theological claims whatsoever.
As for the United Methodist Book of Discipline, it states under "Social Principles: The Natural World":
We recognize science as a legitimate interpretation of God's natural world. We affirm the validity of the claims of science in describing the natural world and in determining what is scientific. We preclude science from making authoritative claims about theological issues and theology from making authoritative claims about scientific issues. We find that science's descriptions of cosmological, geological, and biological evolution are not in conflict with theology.
Note the sentence: "We preclude science from making authoritative claims about theological issues and theology from making authoritative claims about scientific issues." Yet in denying Discovery Institute a place in the exhibit hall, the UMC violates this very principle. They are, as a church, making a claim about what is and is not scientific.
What "science's description" of "biological evolution" should be is precisely the question that scientists, including those affiliated with Discovery Institute, address. Intelligent design, like Darwinian natural selection, is a proposed scientific description or explanation of how life evolves. Theology is, correctly, "precluded" from rendering a judgment on that question.
It is difficult to see how the Commission on the General Conference of the UMC can justify their decision to exclude us, based as it is on a combination of misinformation and misapplied teaching. It's a sad state of affairs for a denomination, our own, that proclaims its devotion to "Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors." What a shame that no one in the decision process found it in his heart to open his mind and open the door to fresh thoughts about science.
Image credit: � tatomm / Dollar Photo Club.