Evangelical minister marries science and religion
01 | 01 09 15:45
As major museums and leading universities around the world celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, Reverend Michael Dowd, author of Thank GOD for EVOLUTION (Viking/Plume), a groundbreaking new book endorsed by 6 Nobel Prize-winning scientists and religious leaders across the spectrum, is taking his cosmic gospel roadshow across the country for an 8th straight year. In his unorthodox sermons and seminars, awestruck audiences across America are wowed by Rev. Dowd's evolutionary epiphanies about the meaning of life and the current integrity crisis affecting the global economy and environment.
Rev. Dowd, an ordained minister, and his wife Connie Barlow, a noted science writer-author of From Gaia to Selfish Genes (MIT Press), Evolution Extended (MIT Press), and The Ghosts of Evolution (Basic Books)-have traveled North America nonstop since 2002, living out of a Dodge Sprinter named "Angel." Together, the unconventional couple teach and preach an understanding of evolution that they say is "beyond biology or belief." In Dowd's presentations, The Gospel According to Science: Evolutionary Good News, and Evolution and The Global Integrity Crisis, he shares a deeply meaningful "God's eye view" of everything from microbes to supernovas.
According to Dowd, a former fundamentalist who once argued with anyone who thought the Universe was more than 6,000 years old, "Evolution is the divine designer, and nothing matters more than accepting this as a fact of life." Dowd religiously celebrates "13.7 billion years of outrageous good fortune for humanity"-a reality he interprets as "deep-time grace."
"Evolutionary thinking is the zeitgeist of the 21st Century," shares Dowd. "Not since the Copernican Revolution have we experienced comparable revelations about the natural world and our place in the Universe. How will society ultimately reconcile science and religion? Marry them!"
"Creation and evolution are one and the same," explains Dowd. "Science and religion go hand in hand. One without the other leaves humanity lost in the literature, searching in vain for answers to post-modern problems in ancient religious texts written when people believed the world was flat. Only by looking through evolutionary eyes can we see our way out of the current global integrity crisis that is destroying economies and ecosystems the world over."
Dowd's breakthrough book and mobile ministry aim to give voice to a growing movement of millions in the middle that leading polls show see no conflict between religion and reason. The courageous couple have invited battle-fatigued fundamentalists on both sides of the Darwin vs. Design debate to end the war of words and join a new conversation about Creation. In response, scientific luminaries and mainstream ministers-from Baptists to Buddhists-have lined up to praise the Pentecostal preacher, whose meta-religious message is liberating literalists left, right, and center.
"Fact are God's native tongue, and only the marriage of science and religion can provide the real moral guidance needed to live in deep integrity," teaches Dowd.
Rev. Dowd's provocative ministry focuses not only on what evolution reveals about the past, but on its prophetic possibilities for a hopeful future far beyond the doomsday scenarios that have dominated popular thinking for decades.
"These are not the End Times," preaches Rev. Dowd. "According to the rock record, humanity only emerged yesterday in geological time. We have an eternity ahead of us to get to know our Creator and our place in the cosmos."
To Dowd, religious doctrines such as ‘the Fall' and ‘Original Sin' are best understood as "night language," which points to inherited instincts around food, safety, and sex that ensured the survival of our ancestors but have become a burden in modern life.
"Nothing is more personally empowering than accepting an evolutionary understanding of our true nature," teaches Dowd. "Because I now know how my brain evolved, I've stopped struggling with biblical beliefs about my sinful nature. Thanks to the integrity practices in Thank GOD for EVOLUTION, I now have no resentments, no secrets, and no unfinished business."
"From crumbling economies to collapsing ecosystems, humanity is experiencing an unprecedented global integrity crisis," preaches Dowd. "Integrity is everything! With it, heaven on Earth is ours. Without it, hell inevitably follows. Coming home to Reality, or what my tradition calls ‘getting right with God', is the only way we will ever experience ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.' Evolution matters. Without a meaningful deep-time perspective grounded in measurable reality, we can't possibly know what integrity is-much less know how to live in it."
Raised Roman Catholic, the now roving reverend became a born again Christian following a mountaintop experience on a solo backpacking trip while serving in the U.S. Army in Berlin, Germany. Feeling called to a new kind of service, Dowd went on to graduate with highest honors from Evangel University, with a B.A. in Biblical Studies and Philosophy, and earned a Master of Divinity degree from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary (now Palmer Theological Seminary). He later pastored churches in Massachusetts, Michigan, and Ohio.
"People often ask me how an atheist science writer and an evangelical Christian preacher can find enough common ground to get married," says Dowd. "It's because the labels ‘theist' and ‘atheist' are outdated, misleading, and divisive from an evolutionary perspective. Connie and I share a passion for teaching and preaching the Epic of Evolution-the science-based history of the Universe-in deeply meaningful ways that inspire people to cooperate across religious and philosophical differences."
"I preach a universal gospel, billions of years old, that makes traditional religious insights real in ways our flat-earth forefathers could only imagine and attempt to convey through parable and metaphor," shares Dowd. "Fossils now deepen my faith, not test it. I interpret them as evidence of the amazing grace that has guided us safely for eons. Today, when I learn of DNA discoveries or see the latest NASA images, or when I think about how we are actually made of stardust, I don't reject these discoveries for conflicting with the Genesis accounts of creation, like I once did. I now embrace them, religiously! Studying evolution is like following cosmic breadcrumbs home to God."
In the 1990s, Rev. Dowd expanded his mission and became a religious organizer for the National Environmental Trust. He went on to manage the Sustainable Lifestyle Campaign in Portland, Oregon, and Global Action Plan's EcoTeam and Livable Neighborhood Programs in Rockland County, New York.
Today, Michael and Connie have no permanent home and travel from town to town, hosted by churchgoers and supporters along the way. The two have spoken to more than a thousand church, college, and community groups since first setting out as itinerant evolutionary missionaries 7 years ago.
This year marks the bicentennial of the birth of Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary theory, and the 150th anniversary of his magnum opus, On the Origin of Species. Major museums and leading universities around the world have planned yearlong celebrations to honor the controversial scientist and his contributions. This May in Rome, even the Vatican will host its own conference honoring Darwin.
"For years, I demonized Darwin and clung to religious beliefs as fire insurance that would save me from a hellish afterlife," says Dowd. "Now, I thank God for Charles Darwin. Other than Jesus' teachings, nothing has transformed my understanding of God and deepened by faith more than an evolutionary worldview. Darwin's great gift to us is a real God that replaces the otherworldly angry father that was I taught to fear. Darwin's insights lifted the veil and gave us our first glimpse of the mysterious workings of our Creator."