In 1925 John Thomas Scopes was put on trial by the state of Tennessee for teaching evolution in the classroom. That same year in France Teilhard de Chardin was called to Lyons by his Jesuit provincial to silence him on his discussion of Adam and Eve and original sin.
Eighty-eight years later the conflict between scientific evolution and religious belief is not only unresolved, it has entered a new phase in American politics. And the contest between religion and science for the hearts and minds of Americans seems to be trending toward religion. A Gallup poll indicates that over the last 30 years the percentage of Americans who believe God created humans directly in their current form has actually grown from 44% to 46%, a figure matched by an annual survey by the National Science Foundation.
Four states are currently debating new laws that call for schools to put evolution on the same footing as creationism or intelligent design. House Bill 291 in Missouri, for example, calls for “the equal treatment of science instruction regarding evolution and intelligent design,” according to the National Center for Science Education. The implications for practical and politically charged issues such as global warming and ecology are apparent.
Is there room for dialogue between believers and scientists on this? We believe that the outside-the-box thinking of Teilhard de Chardin on evolution presents just such an opportunity. And impels us to tell Teilhard’s fascinating story as a paleontologist and mystic on public television. Stay tuned.