Michael Dowd: Pro-Future Evangelist

New York Times Magazine | Michael Dowd | Pro-Future Evangelist
New York Times Magazine

Darwinists for Jesus

New York Times Magazine

by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

In 1981, Michael Dowd would have counted himself among the millions of conservative Christians who blame Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and the idea of a godless, purposeless universe for the moral decline of society. That year, as a freshman at Evangel University in Springfield, Mo., Dowd felt a rush of indignant anger in biology class when the professor held up a textbook that taught evolution. As he stormed out of the classroom, Dowd could not have imagined that he would come to view evolution as a spiritually inspiring idea that religion must embrace.

In the years that followed, Dowd shed his more conservative views and served as a pastor in the liberal United Church of Christ. Today he calls himself an evolutionary evangelist. For the last six years, he has traveled across North America with his wife, Connie Barlow, in a van that displays an image of two fish kissing each other — one labeled Jesus, the other Darwin — explaining to conservative and liberal congregations why understanding and accepting evolution will bring them closer to spiritual fulfillment. The religious advantage to embracing the evolutionary worldview, Dowd says, is that it explains our frailties, our addictions, our infidelities and other moral deficiencies as byproducts of adaptation over billions of years. And that, he says, has a potentially liberating effect: never mind guilt; once we understand our sinful ways, we can get past them and play a conscious role in the evolution of humanity.