Minister binds Bible, evolution

Louisville Courier-Journal

With an exuberance matching the vocation he claims -- "evolutionary evangelist" -- the Rev. Michael Dowd sought yesterday to ignite students' enthusiasm for the belief that science could be reconciled with religious creation stories.

Dowd, author of the new book "Thank God for Evolution!", spoke to high school students at the Muhammad Ali Center as part of the annual Festival of Faiths, sponsored by the Center for Interfaith Relations.

"There's a good reason why people of different cultures hang on to their creation stories so passionately," he said. "They would die for them, because that's what gave them a sense of meaning … and also helped them answer questions like how to be good, how to raise your children in a moral, ethical way."

Evolution, he said, "doesn't in any way put the tradition down" but is "like a container that holds all these other stories and shows why they all make sense."

He said religious beliefs in creation are based on "private revelation" -- what individual people believe has been revealed to them by God.

Science, he maintained, is "public revelation" because it involves facts that can be analyzed by all.

Advocates of a literal reading of the Bible's creation story say it contradicts the claims that life evolved gradually and that the universe is billions of years old.

Dowd disagrees with that view, but he said creation stories often reflect profound truths.

He cited the doctrine of "original sin" -- the Christian tradition that all people sin because of the original rebellion of Adam and Eve. He said it echoes what science is learning about behavior -- that people often overindulge in food or sex because their evolutionary ancestors developed fierce cravings to keep themselves and their species alive.

But today, he said, such cravings can lead to habits that destroy health and families. It's not, he maintained, because "their great-great-great-great grandmother ate an apple … or if it's because they're fundamentally evil" but because they lack an "evolutionary understanding" of their impulses.

"This isn't an excuse" for bad behavior, he said. "It actually makes it easier to live in integrity."

"I have a closer walk with God, I have a deeper appreciation for the Scriptures, not as literally true, but cosmologically true," said Dowd, who went to a Pentecostal college and later was ordained a minister in the United Church of Christ.

Dowd and his wife, Connie Barlow, author of two books on evolution, travel full-time to talk about evolution. He'll also be giving a free talk tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. at the Kentucky International Convention Center.

Students from local private and Catholic schools attended the talks by Dowd and Barlow at the Ali Center.

"It's nice that there are people out there who are accepting of science and religion and not (choosing between) one or the other," said Chris Berry, a senior at Walden School.

"It was nice that he could present it without saying that you have to believe in God," said another Walden senior, Brittany Fuller.

Both liked how he spoke respectfully of religious creation traditions.