Reconciling evolution and religion

San Mateo County Times

By Christine MorenteSAN MATEO — The Rev. Michael Dowd and his wife, Connie Barlow, have criss-crossed the country in their Dodge Sprinter, teaching and preaching the Great Story, for the last six years.Their road trip adventure has led them to hundreds of congregations, retreat centers and monasteries open to learning about a movement that binds science and religion."A lot of people are hungering for a message that bridges the divide," Dowd said recently. "Sacred evolution bridges the head and heart, science and the religious, faith and reason with a deeply spiritual or soul-nourishing message that inspires people to great integrity, to greater love."

Dowd, 49, is the author of "Thank God for Evolution!" For the last few weeks, the evolutionary evangelist has been in the Bay Area spreading his message. At 7 tonight, he will be at the Unitarian Universalist Church in San Mateo.The Rev. Vail Weller invited Dowd, who visited the congregation last year, to come back and speak."He understands the new advances in science, he really understands evolution and he really understands religion," Weller said."Thank God for Evolution!" emerged from years of speaking to audiences who fall within moderate to liberal Christian perspectives. Visits to conservative groups are rare.Dowd, who grew up Roman Catholic, struggled with drugs and alcohol as a teen. At 19, he became a born-again Christian. He was taught that evolution was the product of the devil.In 1982, Dowd attended Evangel University and was "freaked out" when he realized that the evangelical school taught evolution.He said he eventually began to accept evolution, "kind of like the way you accept death and taxes."However, it wasn't until February 1988, when he heard cultural therapist Albert LaChance speak at a session called "The New Catholic Mysticism" that Dowd fully embraced evolution.Dowd said LaChance described the scientific story of the universe as a sacred epic."I had goose bumps and I started to cry," Dowd said. "I knew I would spend the rest of my life talking about his message. Because here was a deeply inspiring religious world view grounded in the sciences."He later met Barlow, an acclaimed science writer who was not particularly interested in religion. They got married and both became involved in the movement while living in Rockland County, New York.Three weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, they watched a PBS special that asked, "What About God?" The program included interviews with science majors grappling with trying to maintain their faith while studying evolution."Connie looked at me and said I should be speaking to those students," Dowd said. "I knew faith can be strengthened and deepened by evolution."Then they were on the road and living in their Sprinter — a bedroom on wheels — when they weren't taking over people's guest bedrooms in various cities.Dowd estimates that 70 percent of the population responds "very favorably" to his message.However, Scotty McLennan, dean for religious life at Stanford University, said it would take a long time to convert those who are on the other side of the fence.McLennan cited a 2004 Gallup poll that showed 45 percent of the U.S. population believed God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so."Historically, Christians have built an acceptance of science," McLennan said. "To me, what we're doing in science is discovering the glory of God's creation. We're discovering the laws by which creation or the universe is governed."Weller said she believes in evolution because it points to a greater interconnectedness among the world's great religions."I used to think of science as something kind of out there," she said. "We are the universe and we evolve. At some point, everything was dust and we have evolved to a point that we are considering those ideas and we understand that everything is connected. It's quite moving to me."