Michael Dowd: Pro-Future Evangelist

Evidence-based religion | Michael Dowd | Pro-Future Evangelist

Evidence-based religion

Salina Journal

By Roshana Ariel

‘Science is at least in part informed worship,’ Carl Sagan once said

I just saw a new TEDx talk by the Rev. Michael Dowd, a self-proclaimed evolutionary theologian and Big History evangelist.

I got to know Dowd when I served as his assistant a couple of years ago at a conference in California called Integral Spiritual Experience, where he was the keynote speaker. He’s the author of "Thank God for Evolution."

Dowd’s latest talk is called "Reality Reconciles Science and Religion" (find it on you tube.com by putting the title in the search box).

Many years ago, Dowd was a pastor of the regular Christian variety. Maybe that’s why he appeals to me: I still am drawn to the evangelical enthusiasm and sense of the sacred that he exudes. Dowd graduated from Palmer Theological Seminary at Evangel University and was a United Church of Christ minister. He still considers himself a Christian but has a different take on God.

"What we call reality," he says, "the ancients called God ... or the gods."

The gospel for Dowd now is a synthesis of science and religion that transcends and includes both.

"Science not only doesn’t do away with the concept of the divine," he says, "but science gives us the only understanding of God that is undeniably, inescapably real."
His talk includes three main points.

  • Right relationship to reality is what ultimately matters.
  • Ignoring God’s evidential words has tragic consequences.
  • Being faithful to God means honoring the past and the future.

At the very least, he says, we need to be in right relationship with the air, water, soil and life of this planet.

What is reality? Dowd likes this definition by the late Philip K. Dick, an American science fiction writer: "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away."

Dowd spends a good deal of the talk focusing on personification - having an I-Thou personal relationship with what’s real.

"If we continue to relate to nature as an ‘it’ to be used and exploited by us, rather than a ‘Thou’ to be honored and respected, we will cause our own extinction," he says.

For example, he talks about Poseidon: It’s not the god of the oceans or the spirit of the oceans. Poseidon is the personification of the "incomprehensible and capricious seas."

The Holy Spirit is the personification of what we call "breath" and "wind," he said, referring to the Hebrew words Ruach Adonai and Ruach Elohim.

"If you don’t understand personification, you can’t understand religious differences and you certainly can’t understand the world’s myths," he says. "We do our traditions a disservice when we don’t know how to read mythic literature."

Moving on to understanding our universe, Dowd says, "You can’t understand how God, or Reality, created the Periodic Table of Elements or planets or life or the atoms of our bodies if you don’t understand supernovas and red giant explosions."

We’ve only known about extinction for 200 years, glaciers for 150, supernovas for 65 or 70, and plate techtonics for 55 years, he points out.

"This is divine revelation, but it’s evidential."

Evidence is how Reality "speaks," he says. It’s our modern-day Scripture and our main source of divine guidance today.

"God" and "evolution" are pointing to the same creative divine process. Both answer the question of how we got here.

"Arguing whether it was God or evolution that created everything is like arguing whether it was Uncle Sam or the U.S. government that insists we pay taxes every year."

As for one current global crisis, one that Reality is speaking volumes about, the good news about climate change, he says, is that we can see it coming. Never before in the history of the world have we been able to see such a calamity happening before it destroys our world.

Dowd says religion is all about collective intelligence:

• Religion 1.0 was concerned with the authority of elders. You went to the elders to learn what matters.
• Religion 2.0: the authority of books, of Scripture - where you went for your best map of reality.
• Religion 3.0: the authority of science - collective intelligence of scientists of every stripe - Christian, Buddhist, Taoist, atheist researchers from around the world.
When we privilege ancient text over evidential revelation, we’re not honoring God’s word to us today, he says.

Dowd points out that the conflict with science is one of the main reasons young people are leaving the church in droves, something that saddens him.

Rates of teen pregnancy, obesity, spousal abuse and porn addiction are highest in the most religiously conservative, Bible-centered parts of America, he says. Understanding brain science is vital to understanding these issues and dealing with them.

He worries that because a large number of voters believe they’re going to be raptured soon, they have no reason to be concerned about the future: 77 percent of evangelicals deny a 13.8 billion-year-old universe; 76 percent deny evolution; 58 percent deny climate change.

Dowd calls us to honor the countless generations of people who have fought, suffered and clawed their way through history so that we can be here now, with all the luxuries, all the scientific breakthroughs, all the collective knowledge we benefit from.

It’s a call for the evangelical church to grow in maturity instead of burying its head in ancient sand.