Christian author, science professors believe God and evolution co-exist

The Tennessean

By Bob Smietana

Michael Dowd believes in the gospel of evolution.

The former United Church of Christ pastor travels the country in a converted Dodge van preaching what he calls a 14 billion-year-old lesson in grace.

"The only version of evolution that most of us have been exposed to — how it's taught — is a chance, meaningless, purposeless, cruel, Godless process," he said. "And that is not what I am talking about."

He believes God has always been present in evolution.

Dowd, author of Thank God for Evolution, is one of many Christians trying to heal the rift between evolution and Christianity. But science teachers at Christian-oriented colleges say faith and evolution will remain at odds for quite some time because integrating the two theories is not that simple.

Belmont University biology professor Robert Grammer skimmed through Dowd's book, but remains skeptical. He says that some popular books on evolution seem too much like infomercials.

"I don't think it's quite as simplistic as he or intelligent design (suggest) it is," he said. "I think life is complex."

Grammer is head of the biology department at Belmont, a Christian university with Baptist roots. He says most faith and science discussions at Belmont occur outside of the classroom, rather than in the lab. "In the biology department, we teach straight science and straight evolution," he said.

Grammer, a member of Crievewood Baptist Church, says that evolution and faith are compatible. "To me it's perfectly plausible that a supernatural God can operate how he chooses," he said.

Some of the students in Belmont's labs are creationists, Grammer thinks, learning about evolution but privately rejecting it.

"They take it in and learn it and then spit it back," he said.

Mark Bolyard, chairman of the biology department at Union University, a Baptist school in Jackson, Tenn., takes a more proactive approach to combining evolution and faith. In his classes, students learn the fundamentals of evolution in the same way they do at a secular university.

But Bolyard, who holds a doctorate in molecular biology from the University of North Carolina, also talks about God as creator in class, "not just a God who wound up the universe and let it go."

While he doesn't expect students to embrace evolution, Bolyard wants them to understand it.

"Evolution is the 800-pound gorilla of biology," he said.

In class, Bolyard raises questions about how life on earth began. He wonders if the first cells could have come into being without God's hand, and says how life started remains a mystery. "I don't know, and anyone who claims they know is inaccurate. There is no way to know how any of that happened," he said.

Cyndi Adams, who teaches biology at David Lipscomb High School, says that science deepens her faith. Following the book of Genesis, Adams stresses that God created the world and everything in it. And, she accepts that evolution was part of the process.

"Things have changed over time," she said. "I tell them that God was in charge of those changes."

She also says that the intricacy of human and animal life causes her to praise God. "I say, 'Isn't it great that God put it together that way?' "

Dowd shares her sentiment.

"When I learn of a new Hubble telescope image or a new transitional fossil discovery, I don't think like I used to think, 'Oh no, how does this fit with Genesis?' " he said. " Now I think, 'Wow, cool, look how God created us. Look what is being revealed today.' "

Dowd's perspective appeals to the Rev. Denise Yeargin of the Unity Church for Positive Living in Old Hickory. Yeargin's congregation recently hosted two talks by Dowd. She says evolution fits with her theology.

"We don't believe that God says, 'poof,' and there was a giraffe," she said.

"I believe (Dowd) can help us with this big dilemma when religion and spirituality collide," she said.