Where Darwin meets Genesis

Chicago Daily Herald

By Marni Pyke

In 1925, the Scopes monkey trial generated headlines, hoopla and hate between proponents of teaching Charles Darwin's theory of evolution in schools and those who called it blasphemous.

It wouldn't be the last time questions of faith have divided the body politic as overtones of religion in this year's presidential contest show.

The Rev. Michael Dowd wants to change that.

The self-titled "evolutionary evangelist" will be in Palatine Thursday night talking about his new book "Thank God for Evolution."

Dowd says he goes beyond merely reconciling the God versus science dichotomy.

"Evolution and God are two different names for the same creative processes," he said in a Tuesday interview. "What I try to do is show how science and religion can be mutually enriching. Science can deepen one's faith. Science is revelatory. It reveals divine truths."

Dowd didn't start out embracing Darwin.

He started life as a Roman Catholic and later became a born-again Christian and fierce opponent of evolution.

While a student at Evangel University in Missouri, Dowd was shocked learning Darwin was on the curriculum. "Satan obviously has a foothold in this school," he told his roommate.

But several of Dowd's mentors at the school believed in evolution and he evolved to accept it.

Dowd, has a master's of divinity degree, and served as a United Church of Christ minister for a decade. Since 2002, he's been on the road with his wife, science writer Connie Barlow, spreading his message in a van with magnetic Darwin and Jesus fishes kissing.

While he leaves out controversies such as embryonic stem cell research, Dowd doesn't shy away from quixotic positions.

"The way forward begins with this simple truth," he writes in "Thank God for Evolution." "Your greatest difficulties (including substance addictions and other destructive habits), while your responsibility, are ultimately not your fault. Such challenges spring from inherited proclivities that served the survival and reproductive interests of our human and pre-human ancestors."

He adds, "the good news is that an evolutionary appreciation of our instincts can help us navigate the troublesome issues many of us deal with related to food, safety, sex and relationships."

For example, knowing that testosterone rises when a man is away from his primary partner for a few days, can help with moral decisions, Dowd said.

The religion/science divide is familiar territory among scholars.

Oxford University scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins, who wrote "The God Delusion," believes science and religion are mutually exclusive.

Then there's Francis Collins, former director of the National Human Genome Research Institute and an Evangelical Christian, who talks of the connection between his work and faith in "The Language of God."

Geologist Stephen Moshier, an associate professor at the Wheaton College, a conservative Christian institution, leans toward Collins' philosophy.

"Science doesn't take God out of the equation, it's a means of understanding how the world works," he said.

Wheaton College teaches evolution, Moshier said, noting, "we see science as a tool to understand how creation works.