Are you older than dirt? Nah. But water ...

St. Petersberg Times

A former pastor will discuss how evolution and creationism can coexist and thrive.

By Eileen SchulteCLEARWATER - You, sitting there. Do you feel old this morning?Well, consider this, courtesy of author Michael Dowd: You are older than you thought.A lot older.Cosmically, you are about 14-billion years old, the same age as the universe - give or take 20, 40 or 80 years, whenever your birth certificate says you were born, says Dowd, a former pastor speaking to the Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater this week.He said the water that makes up the majority of our bodies was formed about 3.5-billion years ago."We are literally stardust," he said. "The atoms of our bodies were created inside the bellies of giant stars that lived and died before our sun was born.

To those who argue that the science of evolution conflicts with the Old Testament biblical account that God created the world in six days, Dowd said that every culture throughout history has had a story to help answer the big questions such as where humans came from."The Adam and Eve story helps us understand 3,000 years ago," he said. "It speaks poetic and mythic truth, but it's not evidential."But now, Dowd said, science is catching up with religion, and that not only can the two coexist, they can thrive.He will explain at a free workshop called "Thank God for Evolution: How Science and Religion Are Spurring Each Other on to Greatness" from 7 to 9:15 p.m. Thursday at the Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater, 2470 Nursery Road."Evolution will usher religion into its greatness in the 21st century," Dowd said.* * *Asked about Dowd's grasp of science, an associate professor of geology at the University of South Florida neither embraced nor dismissed everything Dowd said about the origins of the Earth.For example, Dowd's hypothesis about water "is sort of a strange way of looking at it," but "it is in the ballpark," said Peter J. Harries, who specializes in mass extinction, paleoecology and invertebrate paleontology.There is a lot of debate in the scientific community about water, and that no one really knows yet how it accumulated on the surface of the Earth, whether it came from comets or volcanic activity, Harries said. He also said that no one really knows if it rained for hundreds or thousands of years as Dowd suggests.He did say the Earth was probably formed about 5-billion years ago.While Dowd's approach is simplistic, "in its essence, it's true," Harries said.* * *For five years, Dowd, 48, and his wife, Connie Barlow, 54, a science writer, have lived on the road, traveling all over the United States and Canada in a white Dodge Sprinter van they christened "Angel." Using a prop they call a cosmic rosary with different beads marking each event in the universe's history, they give talks to religious and secular groups helping them to understand evolution in a sacred way.Dowd was born in Twentynine Palms, Calif., and spent his teen years in Miami. He attended the University of Miami for a year before joining the U.S. Army.While in Berlin, serving as a military police officer, he was born again and started attending church with evangelical Christians.He said pastors and church members taught him that evolution was of the devil, and that it was antithetical to the word of God and would seduce people away from godly thinking and living."I was willing to debate anyone who thought the world was more than 6,000 years old," Dowd said.But when he enrolled in Evangel University in Springfield, Mo., which is affiliated with the Assemblies of God, he was shocked that the faculty taught evolution in biology class.Slowly, he began to embrace evolution.He graduated with a bachelor's degree in biblical studies and philosophy. He got his master's in divinity from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, which is affiliated with the Baptist church, and then served as a pastor at churches in Massachusetts, Ohio and Michigan.He wrote several books, including EarthSpirit: A Handbook for Nurturing an Ecological Christianity.Dowd met his wife at a lecture.Five years ago, they loaded their vehicle and launched their ministry, staying with strangers along the way. He doesn't even have a storage bin anywhere he could call a home base."I'm living my bliss," Dowd said.* * *During a local speaking engagement Sunday, he stood in the sanctuary at the Unitarian Universalist church with spectacular photos of the Cat's Eye nebula and the Andromeda galaxy as his backdrop.The universe, he said, is not just this happy, put-on-a-smile place. It has chaos, destruction, breakdowns and extinctions, he said. "Birth and death happens in space."He said that when the major religions were launched, people believed the world was flat, and that relying on an ancient text for answers to complex questions doesn't make much sense."Who would let a first century dentist fill our children's teeth?" he asked.Scientific advances have given people a much greater understanding of how life began, and that humans didn't come out of the world, "we grew out of it," Dowd said.The couple's goal is to inspire people to be of service to the world, and to help create a healthy, sustainable Earth home.And even if there was no Adam and Eve, God created it all, he said."Facts are God's native tongue," Dowd said.