Evolution or bust

St. Louis Telegraph

Preacher brings evolution roadshow to St. Louis

By Jill Moon

ST. LOUIS - Apropos of Charles Darwin's 200th birthday this year, the Rev. Michael Dowd sings the praises of evolution in the context of Christianity.

Although the theory of evolution and Christianity seem like a contradiction in terms to some religious denominations, evangelical Dowd and his scientist wife, Connie Barlow, marry the two in logical fashion. The couple, who live on the road, will bring Dowd's Gospel of Evolution Roadshow to St. Louis at 7 p.m. Thursday at Northminster Presbyterian Church, 1570 Chambers Road. The presentation is open to the public, and donations will be accepted.

Dowd, an ordained evangelical preacher, and Barlow, an atheist and noted science writer, have traveled North America nonstop since 2002, living out of a Dodge Sprinter named "Angel." Together, the unconventional pair teaches and preaches an understanding of evolution that they say is "beyond biology or belief."

In Dowd's 90-minute presentation, "The Gospel According to Science: Evolutionary Good News," he shares a meaningful "God's-eye view" of everything from microbes to supernovas to "the fall" and original sin.

Dowd, a former fundamentalist, once argued with anyone who thought the universe was more than 6,000 years old, although science says the Earth is nearly 14 billion years old.

"Facts are God," Dowd said. "God didn't stop revealing truth vital to human well-being back when our ancestors recorded their revelations on parchment and preserved them in clay pots. God is still communicating truth today through both religious insights and scientific discoveries."

Dowd wrote "Thank God for Evolution," published in 2007. Both Nobel laureates and religious leaders have praised the bold book.

"We're trying to basically show how evolution can be understood as deeply inspiring and spiritual," Dowd said in a telephone interview with The Telegraph while on the road in Oklahoma. "Science is revelatory, revealing truth. God always speaks in fact."

Dowd moved beyond what he describes as "flat-Earth fundamentalism" when he was a student at Evangel University in Springfield, Mo.

"At first, I was shocked," Dowd said about coming to believe in evolution. "I discovered that most all evangelical colleges teach evolution, and also I met a Buddhist Christian. His theology was liberal, but my experience was that he was the most Christ-like person. It wasn't an argument (that changed my mind); it was that I met somebody who just oozed integrity in his life."

Dowd, who was raised as a Roman Catholic but later became a born-again Christian, was taught at a young age to think Darwinism was "evil" and that evolution was "the devil."

"When I was exposed to (evolutionary theological) perspectives, I began to read books and meet people with other world views," he said about his transformation from a Darwin disbeliever to a Christian evolutionist.

This May in Rome, even the Vatican will host its own conference honoring Darwin, who wrote his magnum opus, "On the Origin of Species," 150 years ago.

Instead of talking about the "end of time," Dowd talks about the "reality of time" in the universe.

"There's basic benefits for humans to thrive, to look to the future with a sense of trust - not fear - including a future without us," he said. "Facts always need to be interpreted. We have to make sacred, meaningful interpretation of the universe, which 97 percent of the scientific community agree with the evolutionary aspect of the universe."

Dowd exudes passion about his mobile ministry.

"There's a vital urgency to the timing, because humans have always needed answers to life's big questions," he said. "There's only one way out of the current confluence of crises facing humanity, and that is for individuals and institutions to align with the well-being of the whole, or live in evolutionary integrity.

"If you want to get religious about it, this is surely what Jesus meant when he said, ‘I am the way.' He was inviting us to live ‘the way' he lived, in integrity, which involves loving our enemies, feeding the hungry and being one with the Father, or the Universe, if you prefer."

Dowd contradicted doomsday prophecies that have dominated popular thinking for decades.

"These are not the ‘end times,'" Dowd said. "According to the (Earth's) rock record, humanity only emerged yesterday in geological time. We have an eternity ahead of us to get to know our creator and our place in the cosmos."

Dowd said he evangelizes evolution for three reasons. First, because it provides natural answers for life's biggest questions, such as "Why are we here?" Second, because it reconciles science and religion, and also different religious traditions. Third, it offers realistic hope - not otherworldly hope - but real, grounded hope.

Dowd became born again while serving in the U.S. Army in Berlin. From Evangel, Dowd received a bachelor's degree in biblical studies and philosophy, and then earned a master's of divinity from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, now Palmer Theological Seminary. He later served as a pastor at churches in Massachusetts, Michigan and Ohio.

"Thank God for Evolution" is available in hardcover from The Viking Press and comes out in paperback from Plume on April 28. Visit www.thankgodforevolution.com for more information.