Evolution doesn't have to clash with Christianity, author tells CLU crowd

Ventura County Star

The concept of evolution doesn't have to clash with Christianity, and may even serve to strengthen faith.

That was the message of the Rev. Michael Dowd and his wife, science writer Connie Barlow, who call themselves "America's evolutionary evangelists" at a lecture Tuesday in Thousand Oaks.

Dowd began as a United Church of Christ minister in Massachusetts, then launched his own ministry with his wife of 10 years. The two travel across the country in a van featuring two fish — one with the word "Jesus" and the other with the word "Darwin."

"That got us some interesting looks in the more conservative parts of the country," Dowd said. About 150 people attended the Tuesday night presentation at California Lutheran University, prompting organizers to bring in three extra stacks of chairs.

Dressed in slacks and a shirt with the name of one of his books "Thank God for Evolution" on the back, Dowd spoke to the crowd while clicking through a Power Point presentation. The talk was called: "Thank God for Evolution — Science as Modern Day Scripture."

Dowd told the audience that throughout time, religion has helped human beings define what's real and what's important. It gives humans a sense of personal purpose and social cohesion.

"In ancient times, religions provided beliefs because they didn't have knowledge," he said.

Now, we do have knowledge in the form of science, he said, and churches need to evolve. Dowd believes that rather than eclipse or lessen the presence of God, scientific knowledge backed by evidence helps to strengthen the concept of God.

"We are going through what I call an evidential reformation," Dowd said.

Evolution, he said, links us with the cosmos. Billions of years ago, stars died and the periodic table of the elements was born, followed by atoms, cells, multicelled organisms, reptiles, animals, humans, family groups, tribes, and so forth — an awe-inspiring process.

"If that's not God, I don't know what is," Dowd said.

Evolution, he said, is like Russian nesting dolls, with one ring of life developing around another, always expanding in concentric rings. Ancient rings of civilization involved tribes and city-states, which developed religions. Religions tended to be based on what was deemed important and real in each culture.

"If you're living on the tundra 5,000 years ago, what's real and what's important is different from what it is today," he said. "Tribal wisdom is not going to serve us anymore. We need global wisdom."

That global wisdom comes to us in the form of science, which is available to anyone who wants to learn. It is not like the past when spiritual truth came from one enlightened or divine individual such as Jesus, Allah or Buddha, depending on your religious tradition, Barlow later explained.

Among the lessons of evolution is the fact that the vast majority of us are hard-wired for cooperation and empathy. But we also can learn from evolution that we are hard-wired with drives and urges that match our ancestors' needs to survive, but not our lives today.

Our reptile brains, Dowd explained, were hard-wired for safety, sex and sustenance.

"The most dangerous aspect of our modern diet arises from our ability to refine food," he said.

Our reptile brains will drive us to eat to survive, when in fact, calories are plentiful in most modern societies — especially in processed foods. Dowd calls food packed with calories "supernormal stimuli."

"The greatest psychological and spiritual revelation is that we have instincts just as other animals do," Dowd said. "Evolutionize your life. Understand, honor and harness the science of decoding human behavior."

Dowd's presentation was the third in the James Henry Dekker Memorial Just Peace Lecture Series, established by the United Church of Christ of Simi Valley in 2008 in honor of the late James Henry Dekker, a CLU alumnus who worked for peace and justice.

"In the UCC, we're not afraid of science and technology," said the Rev. June Goudey of the United Church of Christ.

CLU freshman Shane Thompson, 18, attended Dowd's lecture with his buddy, Ben Calingaert, also 18.

"It's the first religious event where I've had my hormones justified," Thompson said.