Holy Evolution

Winston-Salem Journal

By Renee K. Gadoua

The Rev. Michael Dowd's Dodge Sprinter van bears an image of kissing fish. The fish, labeled "Darwin" and "Jesus," reflect his belief that evolution is sacred and that science and religion go hand in hand.

"I'm not into reconciling science and religion," said Dowd, 49, a former believer in creationism. "If evolution doesn't wholly jazz someone religiously, they should continue to reject evolution."

Dowd, a pastor in the United Church of Christ, is the author of Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your World.

Since 2002, he and his wife, Connie Barlow, an atheist and a science writer, have lived on the road, sharing their perspective that an understanding of evolution strengthens, rather than undermines, faith.

Q. You call yourself an evolutionary evangelist. What does that mean?

A. When I use the word "evolution," I mean the history of the cosmos, Earth, humanity. I communicate it as good news. By good news, I mean it's inspiring.

Q. Why is the conversation about evolution so heated?

A. Part of it has to do with the fact that religion has tended to find its authority in ancient texts. The scientific world finds its authority through the whole range of science and fact.

The other reason is that evolution -- the history of the universe -- has not been interpreted meaningfully. It's not a surprise that conservatives reject evolution; they see it as meaningless. When evolution can be interpreted in ways that religious people can see as holy, it validates their deeper way of thinking.

Q. What is the gospel of evolution?

A. It builds bridges, it provides guidance and it restores realistic hope. It bridges science and religion, head and heart. It bridges different religions. Evangelicals and humanists who are family members can have a meaningful conversation.

It provides guidance for us as individuals, like composting and recycling and building a sustainable environment.

We need to create laws and incentives that make it easy for individuals, corporations and nations to do the right thing. It's in their self-interest to do the just, ecological thing.

Q. How do you convince people of faith, particularly evangelicals who may be skeptical, that environmental concerns should be a priority?

A. Telling them it should be a priority isn't terribly effective. What I find really effective is letting them see their own core language -- the gospel of God, the Second Coming -- to see in our lives and institutions where deep integrity is manifest, Christ is returned.

Q. You say that "facts are God's native tongue." What does that mean?

A. When I learn of a new fossil discovery, I don't think to myself as I used to, "that doesn't fit with Genesis." I think, "Wow, isn't this cool how God made us?"