They hold evolution sacred

Elmira Star-Gazette

On Sunday, couple brings message to area that marries religion to science.


by John P. Cleary

Sample ImageEvolution isn't quite the controversial topic the media makes it out to be, says the Rev. Michael Dowd.

The media like to focus on extremes, says Dowd, an ordained minister and former Pentecostal pastor. There is a group, he says, between the creationist and intelligent design groups who think Charles Darwin's "Origin of the Species" is the work of the devil and the outspoken atheists who hold all religion in scorn. They are the millions of ordinary people, a vast majority who see no conflict between the scientific concepts of evolution and their faith, Dowd says.

Dowd is the author of "Thank God for Evolution," published in June, which explores what he calls evolution theology, the spectrum of ideas between the two absolute positions. He'll give a talk on the topic Sunday at the First Baptist Church in Painted Post.

"What my book attempts to do is give voice to the millions of people in the middle," he says. "I tell them that science and religion can be mutually enriching, mutually enhancing, and can, in many ways, spur each other to greatness."

Dowd and his wife, science writer Connie Barlow, have been crisscrossing the nation for six years, spreading what he says is an uplifting and powerful message about man's relationship to his God and world. He spoke with the Star-Gazette by phone Monday from the road in Canandaigua. This month alone he'll give talks in New York, Texas, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

"We do a lot of speaking, a lot of programs," he says. "We have a Dodge Sprinter van, and we live with people in their homes for a few days or a week or more. We take over their guest bedrooms as our office and sleep in the van. It's our bedroom on wheels, and we speak three or four times a week."

Religion and science have come to mutual understandings of many topics, everything from Earth's place in the universe to where babies come from. Yet for some, scientific theories on the development of life as we know it and faith seem impossible to reconcile. Dowd said he doesn't get invited to speak at churches unwilling to make any compromise on evolution.

Creationists believe in God's creation of the world as described in the Bible. In Dowd's opinion, many of them have never had evolution explained to them properly.

"For many, evolution has never been interpreted in a meaningful way," he says. "It hasn't been interpreted in a sacred way. The same facts can be interpreted in multiple ways ... and we offer an inspiring interpretation that is meaningful and builds and strengthens faith. People come to accept it, and not just the way they accept death and taxes. They wholeheartedly embrace it."

The Rev. Gary McCaslin, pastor of First Baptist Church in Painted Post, says he's been following the work of Dowd since seeing him at a conference 15 years ago. He says he was excited when Dowd accepted his invitation to speak in Painted Post.

"I never felt that the separation between religion and science is necessary," McCaslin said. "It's always been such an automatic part of the discussion, that these groups can't get together, but his approach of evolution as theology puts a whole different twist on it, makes it appealing to many different people.

"He describes God in a way that even an atheist can understand," McCaslin said. "Maybe they won't embrace it, but they won't go screaming and running away."

Dowd says he's received positive feedback from people of a wide range of faiths and academic backgrounds. His book bears the endorsement of five Nobel Prize-winning scientists. He says many people leave his programs with their faith energized.

"What inspires them, gets them so excited and gives them hope for their own lives and the future is a new way of understanding reality and their relationship to reality," he says. "It gives them hope to overcome the challenges in their lives and in their families. It helps to reconcile head and heart, faith and reason. Humanists and evangelicals can find enough common ground to have a discussion. And for many people it gives them hope for our species and our world."

Dowd said he and his wife are enjoying getting to know people and the country almost as much as they enjoy spreading their message.

"We're falling ever more in love with North America," he says. "We gave it a nickname, shortened it to NoRa. We're really getting to love NoRa."