Pentecostal minister Michael Dowd preaches merger of science/religion after 'evolutionary epiphany'

Grand Rapids Press

by Aaron Ogg

SPRING LAKE -- The Rev. Michael Dowd said an evolutionary worldview is invaluable for enriching one's faith in God.

"My focus and inspiration is in what's natural, in what's real, in what science tells us about everything -- including our own brains," said Dowd, author of the 2009 book "Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World."

"Science is revelatory. If we're talking about something that's real, we've got to realize that divine creativity has existed at least 14 billion years in this universe."

Dowd, a Pentecostal preacher raised Roman Catholic, said he used to argue with anyone who claimed the Earth is more than 6,000 years old. He walked out of an evolution class at Evangel University in Springfield, Mo.

But he said he experienced "evolutionary epiphany" in 1988 in Germany when exposed to the writings of mathematical cosmologist Brian Swimme and cultural historian and self-described "geologian" Thomas Berry.

Traveling the country

Now, he and his wife, religious naturalist and science writer Connie Barlow, roam the country in a 2003 Dodge Sprinter van named "Angel" to relate a "sacred, meaningful interpretation of the history of the universe."

The couple have appeared in more than 1,000 venues since 2002.

Dowd is slated to make presentations at Christ Community Church on Sunday and Monday.

"I show people how our best science, our best understanding of the history of the universe, can be understood in faith building," he said.

"A sacred understanding of evolution helps people understand science in a God-edifying, Christ-edifying, Scripture-honoring way."

Dowd pointed to biblical text to support his naturalist perspective.

In Genesis 2:7, God "formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."

"That's a poetic way of saying we emerged from the earth," Dowd said.

"We grow out of the universe like an apple grows out of an apple tree -- that's how God created us.

"I show people biblical language, biblical metaphors that we can now not just believe, but know through science."

Not in the literal sense

Some stories in the Bible are best not taken literally, Dowd said, pointing to the story of Noah -- with staggering numbers of animals and humans annihilated -- as an example.

"Let's just hope that the story of Noah is a metaphorical story that's not really true," he said.

"For me, evolution theology is about going to what God has revealed through science first, and then reinterpreting our religious stuff in terms of our best science."

While fundamentalists and literalists positioned on directly opposed ends of the Darwin-versus-design spectrum often aren't receptive to their message, Dowd said the majority living in the middle are warm to new ways of thinking.

"Different people are in different places in their own developmental trajectory," he said.

"I find that what works best is to respect where people are at and teach and preach evolution in the most inspiring ways possible," he said.