Evolutionary evangelist brings together science and religion

White Lake Beacon

MUSKEGON - To paraphrase Mark Twain, the dispute between science and religion has been greatly exaggerated. In fact, according to Rev. Michael Dowd, that dispute may not even exist.

Dowd, author of ‘Thank God for Evolution', brought his traveling evolutionary roadshow to Muskegon's Harbor Unitarian Universalist Congregation this past week, aiming to surprise even the most certain theists and hardened atheists with his notion that science and religion aren't mutually exclusive enterprises.

In fact, Dowd contends the two must co-exist if humans are to have any chance of survival.

To that end, Dowd and his wife, famed science writer Connie Barlow, have made it their life's mission to spread the good news of evolution and science, living as itinerant evolutionary preachers, depending on parishioners and faculty at churches and universities along the way to provide lodging for the couple.

"This book comes out of our travels over the past six-and-a-half years," Dowd told the Beacon prior to his Muskegon appearance. "We plan to live this way, to continue living this way, as long as we can. We'd like to do this, if we can, the rest of our lives. Why? In this time in history, nothing matters more."

Moving beyond literal interpretations of religious texts, Dowd writes that making a distinction between the discoveries of science - which he calls ‘day' language - and those of our subjective, personally revelatory and sacred understandings - called ‘night' language - leaves room enough for both the flourish. To be sure, Dowd's makes it clear that our understandings must be "grounded in science because science reveals reality to us." Nevertheless, Dowd believes he is able to square a naturalistic understanding of our world with nearly every religious concept ever conceived.

And Dowd knows both religious and scientific concepts equally as well.

Growing up Catholic, Dowd received a degree from Evangel University, receiving a double major in biblical studies and philosophy. Later, he went on to earn a Master of Divinity degree from Eastern Baptist Seminary. Yet, prior to his academic career, Dowd was Pentecostal, preferring to speak in tongues over speaking in the language of science. He rejected science and evolution, believe them to be the work of the devil, and that what he called ‘Darwinism' was the root of many social ills.

He even distributed anti-evolututionary tracts and believed the Earth to be just 6,000 years old.

But his studies at Evangel convinced him that perhaps his worldview was mistaken, and a lecture by Albert LaChance a few years later, in 1988 - laying out to Dowd the scientific account of the creation and development of the universe - completed his transformation.

"Less than an hour into the evening," Dowd writes, "I began to weep. I knew (emphasis his) I would spend the rest of my life sharing this perspective as great news."

Another transformative moment occurred following Sept. 11, 2001, when, after watching a PBS special on evolution, featuring conservative Christian college students struggling to "embrace both science and a pre-evolututionary interpretation of their faith," Barlow told Dowd he should speak to students like that. Weeks later, Dowd and Barlow hit the road, and haven't looked back.

The couple isn't hard to spot; their white van, adorned with a sticker that shows a Jesus fish kissing a Darwin fish, leaves little doubt as to the contents of the vehicle. The sticker causes both crumpled stares and waves of enthusiasm alike, reflecting back at them the cultural gulf that seems to exist in our culture.

"If you listen to the media or to what most of the mainstream media reports on, you'd think that these are opposites," Dowd told the audience in Muskegon while standing in front of a large screen with the words ‘theology' and ‘evolution' written across it. Dowd's calls his solution "Religion 2.0," allowing the ancient wisdom of religions to mix equally with what must of us agree is a consensus reality. "Religion 2.0 isn't just tolerant of science, but celebrates it as the great story."

Although Dowd is most certainly up-beat before, during and after his Muskegon presentation, his voice grew weary when asked the efficacy of his project. It's his belief that those with an anti-evolutionary worldview have about 50 years before they are cut off from the culture at-large. Any longer and those communities could find themselves so detached from the larger society they'll both be a threat to, and be threatened by, the rest of the culture.

"It's inconceivable to me that an evolutionary worldview won't take by then," he said, before adding, "Either way, I will be giving it my best shot."