Pastor believes acceptance of evolution can deepen devotion to God

Knoxville News Sentinel

By J.J. Stambaugh

The Rev. Michael Dowd describes himself as a Christian evangelist, albeit one who believes that spreading the word of Darwin is vital to the health of Christianity.

Dowd believes the purported dichotomy between science and religion that fuels much of the debate about evolution must be overcome, and he will be discussing that topic Tuesday at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church on Kingston Pike.

"God didn't stop revealing truths vital to human well-being back when people believed the world was flat and religious insights were recorded on animal skin," Dowd said. "God is still revealing today through the worldwide, self-correcting scientific process.

"The primary way that reality is revealed is in facts - facts are God's native tongue. Now, when I see a new Hubble space photo or learn of a new fossil form, I don't think to myself as I used to, 'Oh no, how does this fit with Genesis?' I instead think, 'Look, how cool - look what God is revealing to us today."

Dowd, who attended Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia where he majored in Biblical studies and philosophy, has pastored three United Church of Christ congregations. For the past six years, he has been living on the road with his wife, Connie Barlow, and speaking to hundreds of congregations across the United States.

His belief that science is vital to Christianity led him to write a book called "Thank God For Evolution," which was published last year and garnered endorsements from several Nobel prize winners.

Dowd believes that a lack of integrity lies at the root of many of the world's problems, and a key part of developing integrity is coming to grips with the reality unveiled by science.

"I would say lack of integrity is the primary cause of suffering in the world, and this lack is evident in corporations, families, and states," Dowd said. "Integrity is what religious people might call being right with God, or being aligned with reality as it is and not as we wish it was. I keep coming back to the issue that evolution theology is a call of integrity at all levels.

"As long as people think they can praise God and trash the environment or treat others in a disrespectful way, they're out of touch with reality."

Many people from various religious traditions, however, reject the scientific conclusions that the universe is billions of years old and life evolved gradually over vast epochs of time.

Dowd believes this rejection is largely the product of science being presented as a recitation of facts with little effort given to deeper meanings or interpretation.

"We as human animals will go somewhere to find what inspires us, that which calls us to greater integrity, care, compassion, love," he said. "Until we can offer an interpretation (of science) that is inspiring, people are going to reject it.

"Most people have never been exposed to a deeply inspiring, religious way of interpreting the history of the Earth. Conservatives should continue to reject evolution until they encounter something that calls to them."