Michael Dowd: Pro-Future Evangelist

This Christmas, Christianity evolves | Michael Dowd | Celebrating Reality

This Christmas, Christianity evolves

  • Rev. Michael Dowd convene diverse Christian leaders who see science as sacred
  • EvolutionaryChristianity.com to host free podcasts and seminars

This Christmas season, bestselling author and evolutionary evangelist Rev. Michael Dowd is having an online revival of sorts, and pitching what may be the biggest tent yet for fellow Christians who embrace evolution and honor science: EvolutionaryChristianity.com.

As a sequel to his breakthrough book Thank God for Evolution (Viking/Plume), Rev. Dowd is hosting and producing a living library of free podcasts and live panels with preeminent Christians on the leading edge of science and religion, where mythic beliefs and measurable reality collide.

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» View live panel schedule
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“The New Atheists and scriptural literalists are not the only games in town,” says Dowd. “In contrast to Richard Dawkins’ God-less universe, tens of millions of us in the middle celebrate both Jesus and Darwin. For us, religious faith is strengthened by what God is revealing through science.”

Dowd will speak one-on-one with 38 religious and scientific luminaries representing Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Progressives, and both Integral and Emerging Church leaders about “how science can deepen faith, not threaten it.”

The historic dialogues, titled, The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity: Conversations at the Leading Edge of Faith, explore the emergence of a new form of religious experience that reveres what God is revealing through science and embraces all of creation. Dowd will talk with some of the most respected names in science and religion — Nobel laureates and Templeton Prize-winners among them.

His guests also include Brian McLaren, named by Time magazine as one of America’s 25 most influential evangelicals; Catholic theologian John Haught and Brown University biologist Ken Miller, both key witnesses for the plaintiff at the 2005 Dover ‘intelligent design’ trial; Wired magazine co-founder Kevin Kelly; Ian Lawton, pastor of the Michigan church that recently made national news for removing its cross; Sister Joan Chittister, co-chair of the U.N. Global Peace Initiative of Women; and Sister Gail Worcelo, co-founder of Green Mountain Monastery with Thomas Berry; Bishop John Shelby Spong, whose books on evolving faith have sold more than a million copies; Matthew Fox, defrocked by now Pope Benedict XVI for embracing Creation Spirituality; Paul Smith, a veteran pastor who was kicked out of the Southern Baptist Convention for blessing gay unions; and 30 other evolutionary Christians.

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In the spirit of the season, Dowd and his guests are giving away free access to all the interviews. The daily dialogues were launched December 4 on EvolutionaryChristianity.com, and will continue through January 14. Already more than ten thousand Christians from around the world, including hundreds of clergy, have found the site, with many joining the conversation.

“For far too long the public debate has been a battle of extremes,” says Rev. Dowd. “After nearly a decade on the road sharing the good news of evolution, I felt called to convene a coalition of Christian leaders who embrace scientific evidence as divine communication. By focusing on values and perspectives that we all share, rather than on our differences, we are discovering extraordinary common ground. There’s more than one way to be an evolutionary Christian, but what we all share are deep-time eyes and a global heart.”

From January 15 through February 1, Dowd will host six live online seminars with an internet audience of tens of thousands who can ask questions of the panelists. In February, transcripts of all the dialogues and panel discussions will be made available to the public, along with study guides for churches, seminaries, and school boards.

» View live panel schedule

A recent Gallup poll reveals that four in ten Americans still believe that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so,” or what Dowd dubs “denial about the reality of deep time and our real history.”

Dowd believes that now is the time to help fellow Christians relate to their faith within the context of a universe that he exclaims is “far more glorious and inspiring than anyone living thousands of years ago could have possibly imagined—even prophets!”

Rev. Dowd has come a long way since handing out anti-evolution tracts in his early 20s. Today, he and his wife Connie Barlow, a science writer, are itinerant evolutionary evangelists proclaiming a gospel billions of years old.

The unorthodox missionaries have spoken to more than eleven hundred audiences, from Baptists to Buddhists, about how science and religion can enjoy a happy marriage. The Dodge Sprinter they call home travels North America with a clear message on both sides, the Jesus and Darwin fishes kissing, a graphic Dowd says gets them “a lot of smiles and a few gestures.”

Dowd’s first book, EarthSpirit: A handbook for nurturing an ecological Christianity, was one of the first attempts to look appreciatively at biblical Christianity in light of what scientists have discovered about the universe.

His most recent, Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World, was endorsed by six Nobel Prize-winning scientists and by religious leaders across the spectrum.

About the Participants

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» View live panel schedule
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Ian Barbour earned a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago and a degree in theology from Yale Divinity School. His 1966 book Issues in Science and Religion is credited with creating the contemporary academic field. In 1999 he was awarded the Templeton Prize in recognition of his efforts to create a dialogue between the worlds of science and religion.

“Many religious insights can be reformulated within this new and exciting context offered by science—that is, in light of a 4 billion year-old Earth and a 14 billion-year universe. … The concept of God needs to be reformulated.” — Ian Barbour

Bruce Sanguin is a minister at Canadian Memorial United Church in Vancouver. The author of Darwin, Divinity, and the Dance of the Cosmos, his latest book If Darwin Prayed synthesizes science, scripture, and poetry into 21st century prayers for congregational worship and personal devotion.

“Realizing that I was not separate from the universe — that I was in fact the process of evolution become conscious of itself — gave me a reason to be in ministry again. I regained the passion, the conviction. … Until this sacred evolutionary worldview gets liturgical legs and the language of our hymns and prayers starts to shift, it’s not going to gain the traction that it needs to transform the church and our world. ” — Bruce Sanguin

Denis Lamoureux is an associate professor of science and religion at St. Joseph’s College at the University of Alberta, the first tenure-track appointment in Canada dedicated to the relationship between scientific discovery and Christian faith. He is a member of the Evangelical Theology Society and the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association and holds earned doctorates in dentistry, biology, and theology.

“When I was in graduate school studying evolutionary biology, two things became apparent. First, all evolutionists at universities are not a bunch of raging atheists trying to destroy people’s faith. I also eventually realized that in trying to keep coming up with counter-arguments to evolution, I was like the little boy at the dike. I could plug this leak with an argument and that leak with another, till finally after three and half years I put my hands up in the air, and I said, ‘You know, when they talk about the evidence for evolution being overwhelming, it is mind-blowingly overwhelming!’… If our tradition doesn’t come to terms with this, we’re going to lose an entire generation of kids simply because we have not done our homework — both in the science and, in particular, in the scripture.” — Denis Lamoureux

Ross Hostetter is an attorney and former General Counsel of the Integral Institute. An advocate of Integral Christianity, he is co-founder and director of the Boulder Integral Center, in Boulder, Colorado.

“Once you come into a scientific level of understanding, a lot of literalism becomes impossible to believe. The challenge for Christianity is that it’s going to have to become real.” — Ross Hostetter

Karl W. Giberson is vice-president of the BioLogos Foundation, a major new initiative founded by Francis Collins, aimed at helping Christians integrate their faith with contemporary science. He is also the director of the Forum on Faith and Science at Gordon College and on the faculty of Eastern Nazarene College, where he teaches the history of science.

“Science is another way that God is revealing truth. … There are true things we are finding out about the world, and we’ve got to bring these truths on board and somehow wrestle with them. They’re not in the Bible; they actually don’t agree with the Bible. So we have to somehow deal with the fact that we have two sources of truth. … You’ve got to recognize that when you find out something true about the world, that truth is a sacred truth. It’s a fact about the world, and it’s something that God knows is true.” — Karl Giberson

John B. Cobb, Jr. is a United Methodist theologian who was instrumental in the development of process theology, a school of thought that seeks to integrate the diverse facets of human experience into an evolving theology that mirrors existence. Born to Methodist missionaries, Cobb was a founder of The Center for Process Studies and has served as a visiting professor at Vanderbilt UniversityHarvard University, and the University of Chicago Divinity School.

“I think the interventionist approach [to God] is very destructive of science. But if we see God as a factor in everything that happens, which is the process view, then one can understand that the way God works generates an evolutionary process." — John Cobb

Charles H. Townes was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1964 for the invention of the laser. He was also awarded the 2005 Templeton Prize for his contributions to the understanding of religion in his essay, “The Convergence of Science and Religion.”

“Changing our beliefs can be a positive thing. I think understanding more and more is always positive, and understanding evolution is positive.” — Charles Townes

Jim Burklo is the Associate Dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California and serves on the executive council of The Center for Progressive Christianity. Rev. Burklo teaches at USC’s School of Social Work and is a faculty mentor at the Keck School of Medicine. He received his Master of Divinity degree from San Francisco Theological Seminary, served as a minister for the United Campus Christian Ministry at Stanford University, and pastored Sausalito Presbyterian Church.

“One of the several elephants in the room in Christianity is the whole topic of the miraculous and the supernatural. I really believe that as long as Christianity is unable to shake itself loose from the shackles of supernaturalism, we’re going to have problems. We’re going to have trouble integrating our spirituality with what we know from science. We’re going to have problems with exceptionalism: the whole idea that Christianity is the only way.  Those problems are just going to keep coming up again and again until we realize that the real miracle in this world is the fact of existence itself. That’s the jaw-dropping miracle! To hang our faith on whether or not Jesus walked on water or physically rose from the dead is not only going to lead us down a blind alley in faith. It’s also going to contribute to a misunderstanding of our relationship to the natural world. So I think that’s an important area for theologically progressive Christians to work on — to come up with a language of faith and a reinterpretation of Christianity that really makes that distinction clear. We progressive Christians take the Bible very, very seriously — in fact, even more seriously — because we do not take it literally when it comes to matters of history and science.” – Jim Burklo

Brian McLaren was featured by Time magazine as one of America’s 25 most influential evangelicals. He is the board chair for Sojourners' Call to Renewal and a founding member of Red Letter Christians. His book A Generous Orthodoxy is widely considered a manifesto of the Emerging Church movement, and A New Kind of Christianity explores the intersection of Christian faith with contemporary culture and global crises.

“A conversation is spontaneously arising around the world among Christians of all different stripes and backgrounds, and it’s a conversation for re-thinking the faith on very, very deep grounds. We have to find ways to introduce youth to a vision of the faith that isn’t in opposition to what they are learning in science class.” – Brian McLaren

John Shelby Spong is the author of best-selling books including Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, A New Christianity for a New World, and Why Christianity Must Change or Die. A champion of evolving faith, his books have sold over a million copies. Bishop Spong retired after serving the Episcopal Diocese of Newark for 24 years.

“One of the great weaknesses of religion is that it tries do act as if there is such a thing as unchanging truth. We live on the other side of people like Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo. So we have to look at the universe in a way that we had never looked at it religiously before. We’ve got to look at the world on the other side of Isaac Newton, as well, who took away the concept of miracle and magic — with which the Christian story is deeply compromised, I would say. And we have to look on the other side of Charles Darwin. ... There is no inerrant bible; there is no infallible pope. There is no one true religion; there is no one true church. We’re all pilgrims walking into the mystery and wonder of it all.” — John Shelby Spong

Ian Lawton is the executive minister at C3 Exchange, a church that recently made national headlines for the controversial decision to remove the cross from their church. Ordained as an Anglican Priest, Ian’s work on the inner city streets of Sydney inspired him to take up the mantle of creating a more inclusive and inspirational Christianity.

“One of my main objectives is to give people the freedom to have a direct, first-hand experience of what they may call God, or the Universe, or Beauty — whatever different language is put on it. And science has opened up so much of that direct experience of beauty and wonder. No matter how you describe the origins of the universe, you can have a direct experience of it, and it’s a beautiful thing. ... We should expect our theologians and our church leaders to be accountable to what is current scientific understanding. In other words, we shouldn’t be surprised that, in centuries past religions built worldviews around pre-scientific ideas. That’s not surprising. But once science has revealed something to us, we have to take it onboard. And that doesn’t have to be a negative thing. It can actually enhance and increase religious experience.” — Ian Lawton

Kenneth R. Miller is professor of biology at Brown University and a leading advocate for the teaching of evolution and rejection of creationism and ‘intelligent design’ in public schools. He chairs the education committee for the American Society of Cell Biology and serves as an advisor on life sciences to NewsHour on PBS. His book Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution, addresses evolutionary theory and its relationship to religious views of nature. He also wrote Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul, which chronicled his role as a lead witness in the 2005 Dover ‘intelligent design’ trial.

“I think the first duty of any Christian is to the truth. So the first question that any person should have about evolution is not, ‘Does it contradict what my preacher told me on Sunday?’ or ‘Does it contradict my understanding of the book of Genesis?’, or something along those lines. The first question that any person should have of evolution is really pretty simple and that is ‘Is it true?’ That is the question that really ought to matter to Christians. A hundred and fifty years of scientific research and spirited attempts to show that evolution was wrong have resulted in evolutionary theory being on a firmer footing than anyone could have possibly imagined, even Charles Darwin himself.” — Ken Miller

Michael Morwood resigned from religious life after his book Tomorrow’s Catholic was banned from schools and churches by the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne. He was a member of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart for 38 years and is the author of books including Is Jesus God? Finding our Faith and From Sand to Solid Ground: Questions of Faith for Modern Catholics.

“Let us embrace this new story of the universe. Let us embrace this story of evolutionary development and, rather than talk about it as a God outside directing it, let’s go into our tradition and say, ‘Here’s a story of a God who is everywhere — in all and with all and operating in all.’ And let us go back into the story of Jesus — not as someone who’s a unique pathway to a God who lives somewhere else, but as someone who in the gospel clearly says to people, ‘Open your eyes. The kingdom, the reality of God, the presence of God: it’s here in your own living and loving.’” — Michael Morwood

Tom Thresher is the pastor of an evolutionary Christian congregation in western Washington and the author of Reverent Irreverence: Integral Church for the 21st Century, From Cradle to Christ-Consciousness. He holds a Masters in Economics and a Doctorate in Education from Stanford University and teaches at Bainbridge Graduate Institute, an MBA program in sustainable business. 

“The wonderful thing about an evolutionary perspective and of deep time is that we’re at the beginning of it. We’re brand-new, and there is hope that something quite spectacular will emerge out of this, out of us. I have a deep confidence in that. ... Evolution is not smooth. It has these leaps, and there is a crisis that precedes every evolutionary leap that we consider beneficial. My suspicion is that we are again at such a moment. And my primary job is to listen and to respond with authenticity.” — Tom Thresher

Richard Rohr entered the Franciscans in 1961 and was ordained into the priesthood in 1970. He founded the New Jerusalem Community and the Center for Action and Contemplation. He is a contributor to Sojourners and the National Catholic Reporter.

John F. Haught is a senior fellow of Science and Religion for Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University. He is the author of books including Making Sense of Evolution, God and the New Atheism, and Christianity and Science. He testified for the plaintiffs in the Dover ‘intelligent design’ trial.

Mary Southard is a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph, a Roman Catholic order of women focusing on world hunger and ecological issues. She holds a BA in Art from Dominican University and an MA from Notre Dame. She is best known for her popular Earth Calendars, first published in 1980.

Matthew Fox holds a doctorate in the History and Theology of Spirituality from the Institut Catholique de Paris and was a member of the Dominican Order for 34 years. He was expelled from the Order in 1993 by then Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) for being an exponent of Creation Spirituality. Fox founded the University of Creation Spirituality and has authored 28 books including Original Blessing, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, Natural Grace, and A New Reformation.

Sally Morgenthaler is a best-selling evangelical author recognized as an innovator in Christian practices and celebrated for pioneering new forms of worship. She has taught graduate and undergraduate courses at Yale UniversityAsbury Theological SeminaryBethany Theological SeminaryFuller Theological SeminaryBaylor UniversityOral Roberts University, and Texas Christian University, among others.

Gloria Schaab is a Catholic evolutionary theologian and assistant professor of systematic theology at Barry University, a field in which she earned a Ph.D. from Fordham University. Her 2007 book The Creative Suffering of the Triune God: An Evolutionary Theology, from Oxford University Press, explores the late theologian-biochemist Arthur Peacock’s evolutionary insights about a God who suffers along with the cosmos through an inseparable relationship with us.

William D. Phillips was co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in physics in 1997. A professor of physics at the University of Maryland, he received his doctorate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a United Methodist layperson and a founding member of the International Society for Science and Religion.

Owen Gingerich is professor emeritus of Astronomy and the History of Science at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. He has served as the vice president of the American Philosophical Society, chairman of the U.S. National Committee of the International Astronomical Union, and a trustee of the John Templeton Foundation. Dr. Gingerich is active in the American Scientific Affiliation, a society of evangelical scientists. He has authored over 20 books and nearly 600 articles.

Ilia Delio is a senior fellow at Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University and author of ten books including, Christ in Evolution and Care for Creation, which won two Catholic Press Book Awards. She holds a doctorate in Pharmacology from the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at New Jersey Medical School and a doctorate in historical theology from Forham University. Her new book, The Emergent Christ: Exploring the Meaning of Catholic in an Evolutionary Universe, will be published in Spring 2011.

Diarmuid O’Murchu is a member of the Sacred Heart Missionary Order and a graduate of Trinity College Dublin. His books include Quantum Theology, Evolutionary Faith, and Ancestral Grace. He has worked on almost every continent facilitating programs in adult faith development, an approach to religion that seeks to reclaim humanity’s integral place in creation.

Gail Worcelo is a Catholic nun and co-founder, with Fr. Thomas Berry, of Green Mountain Monastery, the first Catholic community of nuns dedicated to sustainable living. She holds degrees in Clinical Psychology and Christian Spirituality and is working on a new book, Moments of Grace, which explores the current evolutionary breakthrough in the long lineage of Catholic women’s communities.

Doug Pagitt is the founding pastor of Solomon’s Porch, a holistic Christian community in Minneapolis, and a founder of Emergent Village, a global Christian social network. He holds a BA in Anthropology and a Master of Theology degree from Bethel Seminary, and is the author of A Christianity Worth Believing, Church Re-Imagined, and Preaching Re-Imagined.

Edward B. (Ted) Davis is distinguished professor of the History of Science at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, where he directs the Central Pennsylvania Forum for Religion and Science. With support from the National Science Foundation and the John Templeton Foundation, Davis is currently writing a book about the religious beliefs of prominent American scientists. He is past president of the American Scientific Affiliation, a fellowship of scientists who share a commitment to the Bible and the practice of science.

Gretta Vosper is the founder of the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity. She currently leads the West Hill United Church and her bestselling book With or Without God: Why the Way We Live is More Important than What We Believe, made Amazon’s list of top 25 books that “caused a commotion.” She advocates that the Bible is not the authoritative word of God for all time and encourages churchgoers to drop dogmatic beliefs and cultivate a heart for the wellbeing of all life.

Philip Clayton is a philosopher and theologian specializing in issues that arise at the intersection of science and religion. He is currently Ingraham Professor at Claremont School of Theology and Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Claremont Graduate University. He has held visiting professorships at the University of Cambridge, the University of Munich, and Harvard University, and his books include Transforming Christian Theology, The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science, Evolution and Ethics, Science and Beyond, and The Problem of God in Modern Thought.

John Polkinghorne is a theoretical physicist and Anglican priest. Knighted in 1997, he is the founding president of the International Society for Science and Religion and a founder of the Society of Ordained Scientists. He is the author of five books on physics and 26 on the relationship between science and religion, including Belief in God in an Age of Science, The Faith of a Physicist, Quantum Physics and Theology, and Science & Theology.

Joan Roughgarden is an evolutionary biologist and founder of the Earth Systems Program at Stanford University. She holds a Ph.D. in biology from Harvard University and has authored more than 160 papers and eight books including The Genial Gene, Evolution’s Rainbow, and Evolution and Christian Faith.

Kevin Kelly
is co-founder of Wired magazine, former publisher and editor of Whole Earth Review, and co-founder of the Hackers’ Conference. Kelly is the author of New Rules for the New Economy, Out of Control, and What Technology Wants, which suggests that technology is a dynamic, ever-evolving part of the human experience. He is on the board of The Long Now Foundation, a group building a monumental clock and library designed to last 10,000 years. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Economist, Time, Harpers, Science, GQ, Wall Street Journal, Esquire, and LIFE.

Linda Gibler is a 25-year member of the Dominican Sisters of Houston, a Catholic women’s community in service to social justice. She is the associate academic dean at the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, an adjunct professor for the Loyola Institute for Ministry, and a science editor for the Collins Foundation Press. Her book, From Beginning to Baptism, tells the cosmic stories of the primary sacramental of baptism and considers allowing Nature to teach us about God, ourselves, and how to be in right relationship with all life on Earth.

Spencer Burke is at the forefront of the Emerging Church movement. In 1998, he created TheOOZE.com, an online community that now has over 250,000 Christians from 100 countries connecting around evolving spirituality and ministry in a post-modern world. He is author of Making Sense of Church and A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity, an exploration of grace and salvation beyond the confines of religion.

Ursula King is Professor Emerita of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Bristol and a vice president of the World Congress of Faiths. Her books include, Spirit of Fire: The Life and Vision of Teilhard de Chardin, Religion and Gender, and her most recent, The Search for Spirituality: Our Global Quest for a Spiritual Life.

Joan Chittister
is a Benedictine Sister and author of more than 40 books. She serves as co-chair of the U.N. Global Peace Initiative of Women and is a regular columnist for National Catholic Reporter. Her most recent book, Uncommon Gratitude, co-authored with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, reveals a face of reality that can only be experienced in a state of gratitude.

Paul Smith is co-pastor of Broadway Church in Kansas City, Missouri, where he has served for 47 years. Author of Integral Christianity: The Spirit’s Call to Evolve, and Is It Okay to Call God Mother? Considering the Feminine Face of God, he and his congregation were kicked out of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2003 for blessing gay and lesbian unions.

For more, go to:

» EvolutionaryChristianity.com
» ThankGODforEVOLUTION.com