Creation, evolution both make sense

Rochester Messenger Post

A minister and his wife, a science writer, will visit the area later this month to discuss evolutionary theology, which teaches that biblical Creation and evolution are not mutually exclusive.

ROCHESTER - Among the major questions most religions seek to answer are, “Where did we come from?” and “How did life on earth begin?” While the biblical account in the first chapter of the book of Genesis describes God creating day, night, land, sea and all living things in a span of six days, the scientific theory of evolution suggests that life as we know it evolved over billions of years. But two religious writers — the Rev. Michael Dowd and his wife, science writer Connie Barlow — argue that those perspectives aren’t mutually exclusive. Dowd and Barlow will come to the area this month for a series of talks and workshops on the topic of “evolution theology.” The philosophy — which has been around for about half a century and was made famous in the early 1990s in “The Universe Story,” a book by cosmologist Brian Swimme and priest Thomas Berry — argues that Creation stories such as those in the Bible and in American Indian myths are as truthful and valid as the scientific view of evolution.

The way Dowd explains it is this: the biblical Creation story and many of the various Creation myths describe the evolution of life using “night language” — metaphorical words and scenarios in which things happen that our rational minds would say were impossible. Such stories are not to be interpreted literally, he says, but rather are to be understood with a dreamer’s logic, which allows for animals to speak or an entire world to be created in seven days. And within each of those stories is a grain of scientific truth, says Dowd. Every mythical or “night language” Creation story refers, somehow, to a literal, scientific, “day language” phenomenon, he says. For example: In the second chapter of Genesis, Adam and Eve — the world’s first man and woman — commit what Christians refer to as the “original sin” when they eat fruit from a tree that God has warned them not to touch. By eating the fruit, they give up the privilege of eternal life for themselves and all of humankind and are banished from the Garden of Eden. The “original sin” of the Creation story, says Dowd, is much like some of the base instincts that humans have developed through evolution — urges they know they should suppress, such as sexual lust or cravings for rich foods. Dowd — who was raised as a Roman Catholic, became a born-again Christian as a teenager then embraced evolution theology while a student at Evangel University in Springfield, Mo. — says he believes it is important to embrace both literal and metaphorical versions of evolution because doing so allows people to better understand their places in the universe. By uniting faith and reason, people can better realize that they themselves are part of the Creation — that “they didn’t come into the world, they grew out of it,” says Dowd. Once they reach that realization, they are more likely to take care of the Earth rather than spoil it for their own gain. And that, says Dowd, is a good thing. “Certainly, anything (that encourages) more environmental responsibility is a good thing — we do have the responsibility of assuring that the generation after us has an earth to live on, and the generation after them,” he said. Dowd pointed out that in chapter two of the book of Genesis, God created Adam, the first man, “from the dust of the ground.” “That literally roots us into the earth,” he said. Connie Barlow shares her husband’s philosophies and has authored four books about evolution theology. She’ll be leading a number of the events when she and Dowd come to town, including a multi-generational evolution workshop called “The River of Life.” The couple has lived on the road for the past five years, speaking about their shared worldview at engagements across the country, for Jewish, Christian, Hindi, Buddhist and secular audiences. Dowd concedes that the most fundamental Christian churches — those that interpret the Bible’s Creation story as a literal account of how life on Earth began — don’t let him anywhere near their congregations. Yet. But he’s not discouraged. “I trust God, I trust time,” he said. “I think the time will come when this topic is big in the media and people can’t avoid talking about it.” The Catholic Church, for one, is open to such discussions, said Dowd — as long as they don’t “discount our fundamental belief that God is the source of life.” Whether Creation took place in six distinctly 24-hour periods or over a longer span of time — whether, for instance, each “day” was actually a span of years — is “an open question,” he said. “We’re always discovering things that previously we didn’t have the equipment or knowledge to understand. As a people of faith, we always have the responsibility of learning and expanding our experiences,” said Dowd. Alison Cook, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Canandaigua and the Center for Sustainable Living in Rochester, is one of the organizers who worked to bring Dowd and Barlow to the area. She, too, sees evolutionary theology as an answer to the divisions that keep people of different religions from working together to solve environmental problems. “I think it has that potential,” she said. “I’m hoping their visit will be very healing.” Where to discuss ‘evolution theology’ Nationally known speakers and authors Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow will be in the area this month for a series of free lectures and workshops. Here’s a listing of events: • Discussion of “Thank God for Evolution” by Michael Dowd, led by Rev. Scott Taylor, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday, June 17, Susan B. Anthony Lounge in the First Unitarian Church, 220 S. Winton Road, Rochester. Bring a bag lunch. • “Thank God for Evolution” book signing, 7 p.m. Saturday, June 28, Barnes and Noble bookstore, 3349 Monroe Ave., Pittsford. • Worship service with lay leader Connie Barlow, 10 a.m. Sunday, June 29, Unitarian Universalist Church of Canandaigua, 3024 Cooley Road, followed by a potluck lunch. • “River of Life” intergenerational workshop for families, led by Connie Barlow — a musical, scientific and playful journey back to the beginning of time, noon Sunday, June 29, Unitarian Universalist Church of Canandaigua, 3024 Cooley Road, free but reservations required: Contact Val Doyle (585) 624-7736 or • Worship service with Michael Dowd as guest preacher, 10 a.m. Sunday, June 29, First Unitarian Church of Rochester, 220 S. Winton Road, Rochester. • Potluck supper and workshop on the Universe story, led by Michael Dowd, Lake Avenue Baptist Church, 57 Ambrose St., Rochester, 5 to 8 p.m. Sunday, June 29, free but reservations required: Contact Alison Clarke at (585) 394-0864 or or Elizabeth Pixley at (585) 334-0977 or • Workshop on the Universe story, led by Michael Dowd, Unitarian Universalist Church of Canandaigua, 3024 Cooley Road, 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 9, free but reservations required: Contact Alison Clarke  at (585) 394-0864 or Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow’s visit has been sponsored by the Center for Sustainable Living, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Canandaigua and the First Unitarian Church of Rochester.