Evolution evangelist to speak at Church of River

Memphis Commercial-Appeal

By Lindsay Melvin

Believers on both sides of the evolution-creation debate have been slugging it out for more than a century.

But Rev. Michael Dowd is trying to make peace between science and faith by spreading the message that embracing evolution will bring people closer to spiritual fulfillment.

He is the author of "Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and our World."

Crisscrossing the country, he has been doing what he calls "evolutionary evangelism."

Resistance from the religious community to embrace evolution, he says, comes from a miscommunication between the language of science and the language of religion.

"Debating whether God or evolution created the universe is like asking, 'Who said this sentence, me or my vocal chords?'" he said.

Dowd will be in Memphis on Sunday at the First Unitarian Church of Memphis, also known as the Church of the River.

As part of the Summer of Faith preaching series, the author will preach from the pulpit in the morning and deliver a 90-minute presentation that afternoon.

"He has a very provoking message," said Rev. Colleen Engel-Brown, former pastor at First Unity Church in Cordova, who plans to attend.

Dowd and his wife, Connie Barlow, an atheist and a science writer, have been living out of their van for the past six years doing full-time evolution evangelism.Their vehicle displays two fishes kissing with the labels Jesus and Darwin.

Dowd often preaches from the scientific works of Carl Sagan and Thomas Berry, saying, "Facts are God's natural tongue."

Teaching that humans evolved from apes was illegal in Tennessee public schools 83years ago, setting off the famous Scopes Monkey Trial.

A local debate emerged just three years ago when a Shelby County school board member pushed unsuccessfully for a disclaimer on high school biology textbooks. The proposal called for slapping stickers on textbooks saying that evolution was one of many scientific and religious theories, and should be critically considered.

Accepting evolution as plausible "disturbs those who take the Bible literally," said Engel-Brown.But it's unlikely Dowd will meet any opposition while he's in town, said Jack Richbourg, director of the speaking series.

"I think he'll be preaching to people who agree with him," Richbourg said. "We're a pretty liberal church."