'Evolutionary evangelist' to speak in Bellevue

Seattle Post-Intelligencer

No matter how you look at it, it's hard to deny: Throughout much of the world, science and religion are vicious opponents.

Rev. Michael Dowd wants to change all that.

The "evolutionary evangelist" and author of "Thank God for Evolution" doesn't just embrace scientific thinking -- he argues that scientific facts reveal the work of God.

Before he speaks at various Bellevue churches in a couple weeks, Dowd took a little time to answer some questions.

BB: Sounds like you've positioned yourself smack dab in the middle of two warring factions. What do you do there?

MD: In some ways that's exactly what I'm doing, trying to heal -- not heal -- trying to provide conceptual common ground so that religious people can realize that they don't have to be threatened by an evolutionary worldview, but that our best understanding of science can enrich and strengthen and deepen our faith. On a more prophetic note, the way I speak to people of faith, I say you inevitably trivialize religious concepts if you hold that ancient religious texts are more accurate and inspiring and reflective of God's will than our best science.

In trying to bridge these two ways of thinking, then, do you criticize either side?

I'm trying to speak a slightly different message to religious people and nonreligious people. Science and religion not only don't have to be at war, they're two sides of the same coin. One is a side of facts, the other is a side of meaning and interpretation.

To the degree that religious people keep thinking religion is all about an otherworldly, unnatural realm, then yes, religion becomes trivialized over time. If God is great news for humanity but only that select group of people get to avoid hellfire, that's not good news for the rest of humanity.

Those of us who are coming from the science-based perspective do the world a tremendous disservice if we promote the fallacy of "that's just the way it is." A lot of scientific people in the last few decades have given a sense that if you really understand science, if you really understand evolution, you'd be left with a depressing worldview. Is it any wonder that religious people aren't climbing over each other to embrace it?

You speak to people of many different faiths in your travels around the country -- including humanists and atheists. Does your philosophy endorse a certain kind of religion?

The word religion comes from religio -- to reconnect, to connect back to the whole. I sometimes say that integrity is my religion. But what I mean by integrity isn't just being honest, it's being aligned with reality as reality really is. To use religious language, it's being right with God. I'm calling everybody to a deeper religious understanding -- not a religion based on beliefs, but religion based on knowledge.

OK, let's take a step back. Looking at the world right now and the wall that stands between science and religion in many parts of the world, do you really think your message has a shot?

Let me tell you what, I think it's inevitable. I think it's absolutely inevitable that this perspective will be widely embraced. It could take 30, 35 years until that would be case. But by the year 2025, I think we're going to see evolutionary forms of each of the major religious traditions articulated. Then the artists, poets, storymakers and moviemakers of the world will have caught on so much that nobody under age of 30 would be caught dead believing "flat-Earth" Christianity, "flat-Earth" Buddhism, etc. (meaning a kind of Christianity or Buddhism that does not embrace current scientific thinking).

Scientists all over the world agree that everything in the universe is evolving. The paradox is that anything that tries to remain the same, anything that tries to not evolve either becomes toxic, trivial or just goes extinct. Religious traditions that go back to religious texts, they're failing to see what God is revealing.

It almost sounds like if religious people are inspired by your message, they should stop going to church and leave their traditions behind.

Oh no! No, no, I encourage people to stay in their churches and simply work to more deeply incorporate an evidence-based worldview into their churches. It's not about leaving religion, but helping your religious traditions evolve.

OK, last question. You said this blending of evolutionary and religious thinking is inevitable. But how urgent is it? Why should people consider it?

In a world where weapons of mass destruction are getting smaller and smaller, smarter and smarter and more powerful and easy to obtain, if we continue to view religious differences as, "I'm right and you're wrong," it's a dangerous world. Plus, it's not a surprise America is not exactly leading the world in its response to global warming. If we think Jesus is coming back on clouds, and all true believers will be saved and everyone else tormented, we're not going to be working for justice issues, or to transform social system, or ensure quality education for a society 40 years from now.