Book Review by Jack L. Kennedy

Prairie Fire: The Progressive Voie of the Great Plains

Sometimes, you can tell a book by its cover. That is evident from the moment you spy the dust jacket for “Thank God for Evolution,” with the subtitle “How the marriage of science and religion will transform your life and our world.”

The Rev. Michael Dowd, a veteran Church of Christ minister, and his wife believe so deeply that science and religion can not only coexist but can—should—feed on each other that they spend much of their time in travel, trying to convince others that it is not “really necessary to choose between science and religion.” “What if they were simply two sides of the same coin? Could it be that our personal well-being and even the future of humanity hinge on their reunion?” they ask.
It is not easy for some to see science as an extension of God. Nor will everyone’s religious beliefs, tossed about in the science-evolution sea for decades, buy the idea Dowd offers that like science, religion can and should evolve over time to help us cope. Dowd simply sees science as another face of God, an expression of His face in today’s world … with both the lab and the sanctuary revealing themselves in different ways today, constantly adapting. He is not alone in his beliefs, although archconservative or overly judgmental readers might have trouble swallowing his philosophies. But whether you agree totally with Dowd and the many scientists and others he cites in this hefty volume, the long rhetorical trip is worth it.

The book is not easy to read; at times, perhaps, it reads more like a sermon or a sociological thesis or a drug-and-pregnancy-prevention/morality-play plot. It might have benefitted from a bit more focus and editing. When the first taste of a new food comes at a large banquet, it is not always appreciated. But the author is thorough; the appendix alone offers considerable balance and food for thought among various points of view and resources.

“Many devout religious believers have rejected evolution because the process has been depicted as random, meaningless, mechanistic and godless,” Dowd says. But many scientists today are moving away from this earlier approach into what he calls “an emergent, developmental worldview.” The more he learns about the creation, one ex-parishioner and amateur astronomer told the minister, “the more awesome my God becomes.” The science-religion split did not even exist until the middle of the 14th century, the author says—until then the two fields were inseparable and reinforcing.

The book offers a number of approaches to the topic; it is not designed for a quick afternoon read or time on the beach. But it does have some unexpected, welcome humor and human-interest stories in boxes from the two Dowds’ life travels, which both lighten it up and enlighten the reader in very relevant terms.

Sex, morality, personal salvation, business ethics and other topics all have their day in the volume, as if it were Dowd’s one and only chance to express himself on the topics and tie them into his philosophies. But one of the intriguing central philosophies he espouses is that we are still evolving, particularly our brains and our ability to adapt, to cope. While we all might question the cranial capacity of some of our acquaintances, a strong case is made for the continuing evolution idea. At one point, the philosophy is explained this way:

“The error, indeed the tragedy, is arguing that biblical portrayals of God accurately reflect the nature of Ultimate Reality. No time or culture—even our own—should be burdened post hoc with the responsibility of shaping humanity’s understanding and relationship to Ultimate Reality once and for all. Each people will describe and relate to the divine as best they can for their time and their conditions. Each generation honors its ancestry by taking from the past only that which is still life-giving. Each generation provisions posterity by remaining open to new teachings and by advising those who shall follow to do the same.”

Some readers may see heresy where others find hope, some confusion where Dowd seeks union. In any event, this unique book deserves to be read. Will it revolutionize and civilize the science-religion argument? Probably not, but we might pray that it is a start toward sanity and balance.