Science + Religion = New Alliance to Save the Planet

ByClayton Sandell and Bill Blakemore

WASHINGTON, Jan. 17, 2007 — -- A coalition of scientists and religious leaders often at fundamental odds over the issue of the planet's age and how it came to be are now pledging to set aside their disagreements over the origin of life in pursuit of a common goal: protecting the world from global warming, pollution, extinctions, and other "reckless human activity."

"We believe that the protection of life on Earth is a profound moral imperative," according to the "call to action" issued in Washington today by 28 scientists and evangelical Christian leaders.

Notably, the dialog has the endorsement of the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents 45,000 churches and 30 million churchgoers in the United States. Just one year ago, the group refused to endorse the "Evangelical Climate Initiative" signed by 86 religious leaders that called global warming a real and urgent moral problem.

At the time, NAE officials said it was because there was disagreement among their members about the importance of global warming.

Now, those same officials say things are changing.

"It's important to understand the profound changes occurring in the evangelical community in just the last year," said Richard Cizik, Vice President of Governmental Affairs for the NAE.

Cizik says that the NAE board unanimously approved the new alliance between science and religion, and that he's also seeing more concern about climate and environmental issues coming from the local church level.

Saying there is "no excuse for further delays," the statement calls on scientific, religious, business and political leaders to "work toward the fundamental change in values, lifestyles, and public policies required to address these worsening problems before it is too late."

Representatives of the group are meeting with members of Congress today and tomorrow, and they have requested a meeting with President Bush.

The new joint statement is a first of its kind on many fronts, say those who signed it. Some had worried the two sides were simply too far apart.

"I think it is fair to say that most of us were not just surprised but astonished by the depth of our shared moral commitment, despite the obvious theological differences that exist," said participant David Gushee, a Christian studies professor at Union University.

Scientists agree.

"The two most powerful social institutions -- science and religion --normally seen as being at odds are now forming an alliance on this," said Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson.

Considered the "father of biodiversity studies," Wilson is a scientist and author of "The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth."

His book was designed to reach out to Christians who reject evolutionary science based on the theories of Charles Darwin in favor of more literal interpretations of the Bible.

Wilson asked readers to put differences about the origin of life aside in order to form an alliance to solve the world's problems.

The book was a critical first step that led to a November meeting convened by the Harvard Center for Health and the Global Environment, and the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents 45,000 churches around the United States.

The two sides found they had a lot in common.

"We agree that our home, the Earth, which comes to us as that inexpressibly beautiful and mysterious gift that sustains our very lives, is seriously imperiled by human behavior," said a copy of the statement provided to ABC News.

In the statement, both sides also agreed that they were motivated by concern for the "poorest of the poor, well over a billion people, who have little chance to improve their lives" in devastated environments.

"Unless we care for the vulnerable, we are not representing Jesus well," said Joel Hunter, senior pastor at the Northland Church in Orlando.

Setting aside differences is imperative to action, say organizers.

"Great scientists are people of imagination," Cizik said. "So are people of great faith. We dare to imagine a world in which science and religion cooperate, minimizing our differences about how it got started, to reverse its degradation."

Rita Colwell, a professor at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University who studies infectious diseases, called today's agreement "historic".

"We have made some remarkable discoveries about each other," she said. "The most significant being that we agree that we must act and must do so quickly."

Colwell is joined on the initiative by James Hansen, who heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and is considered one of the world's top climate scientists.

"We must keep global warming from taking climate far outside the range that has existed for the past several thousands of years," Hansen said, adding: "It is still possible to avoid dramatic climate change."

Organizers hope the new alliance will be felt "in the pulpit" and will spur others to join the fight to save the planet.

According to the statement, saving the creation will require nothing short of a new moral awakening "clearly articulated in Scripture and supported by science, that we must steward the natural world in order to preserve for ourselves and future generations a beautiful, rich, and healthful environment."

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