Monday, January 22, 2007
All Things Considered, January 21, 2007 · A group of leading scientists and evangelicals have chosen to put aside their differences on how the world came to be and join forces to protect its future. They've formed a coalition and are lobbying Capitol Hill on environmental issues.
Richard Cizik is the vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals. He believes God made the world in matter of days. Eric Chivian is a biochemist from Harvard University who maintains that man evolved from matter over billions of years.
Chivian says that, before meeting each other, Cizik may have thought of him and other scientists as "latte-sipping, Prius-driving, endive-munching, New York Times-reading snobs. And we might have seen them as Hummer-driving, bible-thumping, fire-breathing…"
"…snake-handling fundamentalists," Cizik finishes.
Unlikely allies? Perhaps. But that's exactly what they've become in their mutual quest to fight global warming. The two men have launched what they're calling a dialog between leading figures in science and religion, specifically evangelical Christianity. They're not pushing any specific legislation, but they're trying to raise the public profile of environmental issues.
Both men are actually sipping lattes at a restaurant a couple of blocks from Capitol Hill. Sitting across the room is Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), someone who could help their cause in a big way. She's finishing up a breakfast meeting in a booth in the back. It's an opportunity the men can't pass up. They introduce themselves and she says she recognizes and admires their work.<>
Five years ago, Cizik would
never have been seen lobbying a Democratic senator on environmental
issues. Like many evangelicals, he saw the environment as a "liberal"
cause that prioritized the needs of plants and animals over those of
human beings. But after attending an environmental conference at Oxford
University in 2002, Cizik says he had a revelation.
"I came away absolutely convinced not only of the science but that I should do my part in this, in helping to persuade other evangelicals of their rightful role," Cizik says.
Over time, Cizik says he began to see the connections between so-called life issues that are so important to evangelicals and preserving God's creation.
"If coal-burning utility plants emit nitrous oxides, mercury, which is then transmitted into our rivers and lakes, ingested by fish eaten by pregnant women who then pass it along to their unborn children and babies, then isn't that a sanctity-of life-issue?" Cizik says.
Cizik and Chivian say the alliance is a win-win situation. Evangelicals get the scientific credibility they need to bring this message to their worshippers. Environmentally concerned scientists get their message to tens of millions of evangelicals.<>
those embracing this new alliance is Edward Wilson, a Harvard biologist
and famed secular humanist. He says this kind of collaboration is only
happening now because both sides have been afraid of each other.
"The secularists are afraid of the power and the potential bigotry as they see it, of the religiously dedicated," Wilson says. "The religious conservatives see the secularists as the enemy, wanting to carpet bomb their most basic beliefs. Now we're both discovering otherwise."
But not everyone is on board. Other leading evangelicals have heavily criticized Cizik, saying that he is diluting the Christian agenda with his environmental crusade.
Even so, Richard Cizik and Eric Chivian say that if more people from science and religion would sit down together as they are doing here, they will discover surprising common ground, and, as Chivian describes it, a universal, even divine, truth.
"We all breathe the same air, we all drink the same water," Chivian says. "And our children, if we leave them in an impoverished world, then we will have committed not only something that's foolish, but it's deeply ignorant and morally inexcusable. And we're saying that together."
Agreeing, Cizik adds, "And to all of that… I say, Amen."