Science meets belief as couple put evolution in a sacred context

San Diego Union Tribune


Rev. Dowd in San DiegoSome say you can tell a lot about people from the cars they drive. The Rev. Michael Dowd drives a camper van with drawings of two fish, one labeled “Jesus” and the other “Darwin,” who are kissing each other with red hearts above them.For nearly six years, Dowd, a former United Church of Christ minister, and his wife, science writer Connie Barlow, have traveled the country preaching the gospel of evolution with evangelistic zeal.It's time to declare an end to the war between science and faith, he argues. He says the facts are indisputable: Earth and its inhabitants evolved over billions of years. But that's OK, he adds, because God, or whatever name you want to give to a higher power, was and is still involved.“Imagine a realm of nothingness,” says Dowd, invoking an image of the beginning of time. “God is the essence of that everything. Everything that emerges is not emerging outside of God, but within God.”

His road show is now in San Diego, arriving last week for a series of presentations that will culminate today with an all-day workshop (cost is $5) beginning at 10 a.m. at First Unitarian Universalist Church, 4190 Front St., in Hillcrest. At 5:30 p.m. he'll be at Open Door Books, 4761 Cass St. in Pacific Beach, to sign copies of his book, “Thank God for Evolution.”In the beginningBiblical creationism: God created the earth and everything in it over six days, as told in Genesis, the opening book of the Bible, going back roughly 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. There are varying interpretations over whether the time frame was six literal days or six long periods.Biological evolution: Earth and its life forms developed over a gradual process, beginning with the most primitive organisms billions of years ago. According to the National Academy of Sciences, evolution “has been confirmed repeatedly through observation and experiment in a broad spectrum of scientific disciplines.”Theistic evolution: Sometimes referred to as evolutionary creationism, it embraces both God and evolution. God created the universe through an evolutionary process, therefore Genesis and science complement each other.Dowd sees himself as teaching evolution in a sacred way. Last Friday night, about 150 people turned out at the Hillcrest church for a rousing evolutionary revival. On Tuesday night, he was in Solana Beach, at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito, for a workshop where the crowd was smaller – less than two dozen – and more subdued.“We're suggesting that a science-based understanding of the universe gives us a more grounded way of being,” Dowd told the Solana Beach group.When one man asked him where religion fits into this, Dowd spoke of how knowing that God is in the midst of all that is evolving inspires him to be a better person, to be filled with awe and appreciation, and to be a more responsible member of planet Earth.“We're organically related to the whole,” he says.Keith Mesecher, a longtime member of First Unitarian Universalist Church, says he's “totally turned on” by Dowd's message that humans contain billions of years of evolution inside of them. “We have the wisdom of the universe in us,” says Mesecher, who led the music at last Friday night's revival.He echoes Dowd that the problem with the science community's presentation of evolution is that it lacks any mention of the sacred. Science provides the facts, he adds, while religion provides the meaning.Mesecher, a 61-year-old Encanto resident, also echoes Dowd about a commitment to be more environmentally aware and to help rescue a planet they consider to be in peril.“We are having vast negative effects on the planet,” says Mesecher. “What we need is to learn how to live in mutually embracing relationships with other species.”As for Dowd, 49, he credits his wife with pushing him to follow his dream of becoming an itinerant preacher for this cause. Barlow, a 55-year-old author of several science books, joins him in his presentations, coaxing audiences to regard the evolution of the world as an evolving narrative. “Michael and I view this as the story of the changing story,” she says.The New York couple shed their belongings (they don't even have a storage bin) and took to the road in April 2002.They live out of a white Dodge Sprinter, staying in people's homes during their speaking gigs and supporting themselves with donations and proceeds from the sales of books and tapes. They also have two Web sites: and

He admits that most of their audiences are liberal congregations who are not wedded to biblical literalism and are already sympathetic to evolutionary teachings. But he says he admires creationists for their fervor and admonishes atheists for “having no respect for religious language.”Dowd's not alone in this campaign to mend fences between science and religion. Earlier this month, more than 800 U.S. congregations participated in the third annual Evolution Weekend, when sermons and seminars are geared to what supporters regard as the compatibility of evolutionary science and spiritual beliefs.Still, however, opinion polls show that Dowd remains in the minority.Americans have repeatedly embraced creationism over evolution. As recently as 2006, a poll conducted for CBS News found that 55 percent of Americans surveyed said they believe God created humans in their present form, compared with 13 percent who said they believed in evolution. The remainder favored theistic evolution, a belief that humans evolved but God guided the process.Dowd figures he'll be spreading this message on wheels for the rest of his life. So far, he has bookings into fall 2009. Tomorrow, he is due to be in Lancaster, followed by stops in Riverside, Ojai and Anaheim. Then, the white camper van with the kissing fish will push farther north, continuing to spread his gospel that Jesus loves Darwin.