Michael Dowd is bringing his message to Ashland

Ashland Daily Tidings

Traveling evangelist Michael Dowd is bringing his message to Ashland that it's possible to believe in God and evolution at the same time.

Author of "Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion will Transform Your Life and Our World," Dowd says as a young man he believed in a literal interpretation of the Bible that God created the world in a short period of time several thousand years ago.

"I even distributed anti-evolution tracts and was eager to debate anyone who thought the world was more than 6,000 years old," he recalled in his book.

So he was deeply troubled when he discovered as a college student that even his evangelical university taught evolution.

Through friendships with people of different beliefs and his studies of the Bible and philosophy, Dowd gradually came to believe that God guided evolution, which has led to human beings. Made of stardust, we are essentially the universe made conscious and able to think about itself.

Dowd doesn't believe in a version of God as a separate, supernatural being. Instead, he has more of a traditional American Indian sense of God as being embodied in everything.

He tries to make evolution more palatable for everyone, from fundamentalists who reject the scientific theory to atheists who accept it but are appalled at the cruelty of natural selection.

His description of humans' four-part brain is especially interesting. He explains how our brains are not different from animal brains. Instead, our brains evolved by slowly adding on new parts. We still have a cerebellum and brainstem like lizards, where we have deep-seated and powerful urges for safety, food and sex.

Dowd doesn't use the existence of these urges to excuse harmful behavior like abusing drugs and alcohol, over-eating and cheating on one's partner. He wants to remove the guilt and shame from these "sins" and invite people to step back, realize why these urges are so strong, and then take action to have healthy lives and relationships.

Because mammals raise and protect their young, the mammalian part of the brain allows us to love. Thanks, evolution.

The advanced mammalian part of our brains lets us talk internally to ourselves, imagine scenarios for the future and choose among competing drives.

Our prefrontal cortex, shared with animals like dolphins but most developed in humans, allows us to make complex decisions and think about a higher purpose for our lives.

Rather than being cruel and pointless, evolution has allowed humans to think about the well-being not just of their families, but of their communities and the entire planet, Dowd contends.

"An inspiring consequence of seeing the full sweep of history is discovering that human circles of care and compassion have expanded over time," he writes in his book.

Dowd's message that it's possible to believe in God and evolution at the same time may be coming at a time when a chunk of Americans are receptive to the idea. A 2006 CBS News poll found that 62 percent of Americans say it's possible to believe in God and evolution at the same time.

Are those people and Dowd on to something? Are they just being sacrilegious? Or are they irrationally believing in two mutually exclusive ideas?

Decide for yourself by listening to Dowd at 7:30 p.m. on Monday at ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum, 1500 E. Main St., or at 7 p.m on Wednesday at the Unitarian Center, 87 Fourth St. Both events are free.