Thank God for Evolution, by Michael Dowd

August 24, 2008 at 12:21 am 50 comments

I started writing this review for my Shelfari page, but it kept growing and growing until I decided it might make a halfway decent article here. Since my scathing review of Blue Like Jazz , I thought this one was a little more generous. By a little.

Thank God For Evolution! How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our WorldI wanted to like this book. I really, really wanted to like this book. Inspired by an article by blogger DagoodS, I picked up the book in Dallas while waiting for a connecting flight. Dowd has lately been making the rounds promoting his book, and appearing on everything from Albert Mohler’s radio show to Point of Inquiry. He lives the life of an itinerant evangelist, who travels about the country writing and lecturing on his successful marriage of Christian faith and the theory of evolution. After hearing Dowd being interrogated and his Faith questioned by Dr. Russell Moore, I admit I developed a soft spot for Dowd. I wanted to like him, and his book. I wanted somebody from inside the Christian faith who could successfully promote and evangelize both Christian belief and modern science. Picking up the book, I was struck by 6 pages of accolades from theologians, physicists, ministers, biologists and Nobel laureates. I was impressed by his opening paragraphs which promise inspiration and insight to such diverse beliefs ranging from the Fundamentalist to the Atheist, and everyone in between. I was not even fazed when I turned to the author’s photo on the back cover to discover that Michael Dowd bears a shocking and disturbing resemblance to my old Calvary Chapel pastor Skip Heitzig.

I really wanted to like this book. And I did, but only occasionally. Dowd certainly has a unique way of looking at life that can be beneficial to his readers. He is critical of, what he calls, ‘flat earth Christianity’, or the belief that science should be filtered through the sieve of a literal reading of Scripture. Dowd rightly considers this to be naïve and foolish, and writes his book on this presumption with no justification. No justification is needed – and it was refreshing that this book was not another ‘science vs evolution’ debate. Rather, Dowd takes for granted that evolution is the truth revealed by God through science, and shows how we can understand ourselves better with a proper knowledge of our evolutionary past. In this respect, Dowd draws a lot of his inspiration from, and improves upon, David Sloan Wilson’s tepid Evolution for Everyone.

But my praise ends there. From the radio interviews that I have heard, Dowd is a better speaker than he is a writer. He continually interrupts his narrative with inspiring quotes attached to obscure names (and a disproportionally large number from David Sloan Wilson) and personal anecdotes taken from his many speaking engagements. Every author has their own style, and I understand that Dowd is trying to reach as large an audience as possible, but I found this style to be just a level above that used in Rhonda Byrne’s dreadful The Secret. I think Dowd is better than that, and he should write better than that.

As for the content, Dowd advocates using evolution in harmony with religious belief as a way of understanding ourselves and fellow humans. For instance, ‘original sin’ as conceived by the authors and interpreters of Scripture is actually inherent in each of us due to our evolutionary past. Humans have evolved from animals and that tendency to be harmful or ‘sinful’ to others is a vestigial by-product of past survival instincts. Dowd playfully calls this our ‘Lizard Legacy’, and contends that we can better tame this ‘sinful nature’ if we properly knew its source. Dowd considers Scripture to be true only as far as the writers could interpret the natural world around them. They could not conceive of Evolution via natural selection, so they used the ‘Night Language’ (Dowd’s euphemism for ‘myth’) to make sense of evil as best as they could. But as God continually reveals himself to humanity through his gift of science, we can see clearly the true nature and the evolutionary roots of ‘original sin’. Other theological concepts, like grace, atonement, and salvation are given similar ‘Night Language’ treatment.

I understand that many, if not most, modern educated Christians conceive of these theological concepts in a similar manner. I certainly did when I was a Christian. Yet, even as a religious skeptic, I found myself asking ‘what kind of Christian is this?’ as I read. I fear that the audience who could most benefit from this kind of book, the religious fundamentalist, will do exactly as Dr Russell Moore did during his interview of Dowd. The fundamentalist will ignore the content of the text and will instead search the pages for a litmus test as to what kind of Christian Dowd really is. That is a shame, but the good news is that Dowd answers that question in depth fairly early on. The bad news is, the Fundamentalist will likely slam the book shut upon reading the answer. Dowd considers himself neither a theist, nor a deist, nor a pantheist, nor an atheist, yet considers himself all of the above. He has coined the term ‘creatheist’ to describe his own religious belief – a believer in an all-pervasive God who is continually in the process of creating and revealing. The Fundamentalist will almost certainly stop upon reading these words (p. 337):

I cannot agree that “Jesus as God’s way, truth, and life” means that only those Christians who believe certain things about Jesus or the Bible get to go to a special otherworldly place called heaven when they die. I used to believe that, but I don’t anymore. In hindsight, I see that my old belief cheapened, belittled, and impoverished the universal glory of the Gospel.

Although many will find Dowd’s religious views to be distasteful, I certainly do not mind, nor am I offended. Yet at the same time, this is the sort of double-speak that makes people like John Shelby Spong difficult for me to understand or enjoy reading. Dowd’s resulting theology of Humanistic/Christian/Universalist views is a confusing mishmash of vague spirituality, mythology, pop psychology and a smattering of science. And I do mean a smattering – although he brings up evolution constantly, he never actually utilizes it in his message other than to state that our minds come from a primitive heritage. For instance, the middle chapters of the book veer into self-help territory, complete with exercises for the reader to try. One of the exercises involves describing our ‘DNA of Deep Integrity’ by listing our Evolutionary, or Christ-like, character traits (e.g. trusting, honest, loving, etc) and our de-evolutionary character traits. While the exercise may be helpful for the reader, the mere insertion of terms like ‘evolutionary’ and ‘DNA’ seems forced, and the fact that no explanation is given as to why Christ-like behavior is ‘evolutionary’ makes the whole thing rather moot. Other exercises, some of which are taken directly from 12-step recovery programs, are treated similarly. Nobody denies that evolution, in the sense of character progress, is a relevant feature in human development. The controversy with the religious adherant lies with Darwinian Evolution via natural selection, and I am afraid Dowd makes no harmony with this particular scientific theory and his religious views. The term ‘evolution’ is used by Dowd in a rather careless and haphazard way which left me fairly confused – sometimes I did not know what Dowd was writing about, but he was certainly not writing about evolution or religion. Some of Dowd’s other exercises, like speaking in tongues as a form of inward meditation and imagining a painful memory as if it were a practical joke from God, seems to me to be completely unhelpful.

Astoundingly, the book ends with an appendix written by arch-skeptic Richard Dawkins. Although I am not a big fan of Dawkins’s work, I must say this excerpt from A Devil’s Chaplain was quite enjoyable. Dowd includes it for its “sound guidance for an evidential, evolutionary faith”. Somehow, I doubt that Dawkins would entirely agree with that wording. But the appendix was a fitting conclusion to my overall perception of this book. It demonstrated to me that, sadly, there is no marriage between Evolution by natural selection and traditional Christianity. I discovered that in order to make the marriage work, Dowd must practically redefine both evolution and Christianity. I am now convinced that ramming the square peg of Christianity into the round hole of Evolution is pure futility. I can only think that the pages of accolades found at the beginning are from well-meaning, educated people who are tired of their constant debating with young-earth ignoramuses, and are happy to find anything somewhat reasonable that can hopefully get them to, not leave Christianity or religion, but to at least see the light of science and progress. Hopefully that book may someday come, but sadly, I think this one misses the mark.

Good luck, Mr Dowd. I wish you much success on your lecture circuit and your itinerant ministry.

-HeIsSailing

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The Religious Delusion The sum of our hopes and fears

50 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lorena  |  August 24, 2008 at 12:49 am

    Wow, HeIs,

    Great review! I haven’t read the book and most likely won’t. But after reading your piece, I realized why I don’t like the “progressive” Christian ideas: more mental gymnastics.

    It order to keep the belief alive, people like Dowd need to redefine the faith, and in doing that they add another layer of complication to the conundrum.

  • 2. ordover  |  August 24, 2008 at 1:28 am

    Reading this review brought back memories of a very strange chapel I attended during my Christian school days. We often had guest speakers, and this particular chapel day our speaker was a Christian evolutionist. He had a slide show and presented the idea that a Christian could believe that God worked through evolution, but he made it sound like one of the many denominational and doctrinal choices available to Christians. You could tack evolution onto your faith just like you could tack on the practice of lent, infant baptism, or speaking in tongues. It didn’t make you more or less of a Christian if you did or did not do any of those things.

    What I found oddly lacking from the chapel presentation seems to also be lacking from this book: no discussion of the empirical proof of evolution. It was regarded as a personal belief, and like other personal (religious) beliefs, no factual foundation was necessary to warrant faith. You could believe in it if you want to, or not. It didn’t make a difference.

    I can’t imagine bringing up evolution without bringing up its many proofs, but I guess it fits more comfortably into a Christian worldview if it doesn’t carry that weight, if it can be considered a personal choice rather than a scientific fact.

  • 3. Jackson  |  August 24, 2008 at 7:25 am

    There is an interview with Dowd related to this book at http://www.pointofinquiry.org/rev_michael_dowd_thank_god_for_evolution/ ( Aug 15 2008 )

  • 4. Michael Dowd  |  August 24, 2008 at 8:36 am

    Thanks for your well wishes, Hels. I appreciate your detailed review, and did not find it “scathing” at all.

    My book is not written to convert fundamentalists. It was written mostly to help mainline Catholic and Protestant Christians and progressive evangelics to let go of attachment to literal interpretations of their otherworldly myths in order to embrace a meanginful evidential worldview. The book itself emerged out of years of field-testing the ideas and concepts contained in TGFE. Since April 2002, my wife, Connie Barlow, a noted science writer — http://www.thegreatstory.org/CB-writings.html — and I have delivered Sunday sermons, evening programs, and multi-day workshops in nearly 600 churches, convents, monasteries, and spiritual centers across the continent, including liberal and conservative Roman Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Unitarian Universalist, Unity, Religious Science, Quaker, Mennonite, and Buddhist groups. We have also presented audience-appropriate versions of this message in nearly a hundred secular settings, including colleges, high schools, grade schools, nature centers, and public libraries. Response to our programs has been uniformly positive: http://www.thegreatstory.org/what_others_say.html

    Few things are more important, it seems to us, at least here in America, than for tens of millions of religious believers over the next few decades to come to embrace a science-based understanding of the world.

    Connie and I stand together in this assessment: Until the majority of churches in America begin teaching evolution enthusiastically in religious education classes and preaching with conviction the practical benefits of an evolutionary worldview, then there will never be an end to the science and religion war, nor to the ever-mutating forms of religious opposition to the teaching of evolutionary sciences in public schools.

    I suspect it will take at least 3-4 more decades, possibly longer (and many books and films and plays and artists of all kinds), before the majority of Christians in America see science as more authoritative than ancient writings. Bu that it it will happen eventually, I am confident.

    As you know, weapons of mass destruction in the hands of those with End Times beliefs is a prescription for disaster on a scale we can’t even imagine. I may be only reaching those on the progressive edge of biblical literalist camp, but its where I can make the biggest difference at this time.

    If you’re interested, here are a few interviews you or your readers might enjoy:

    http://thankgodforevolution.com/audiovideo

    Co-evolutionarily,

    ~ Michael

  • 5. the chaplain  |  August 24, 2008 at 9:46 am

    Nice review, HIS. Lorena, I agree with you about the mental gymnastics of progressive Christianity. When I finally recognized what I was doing, I left it all behind. My mind rests much easier these days.

  • 6. samwitt  |  August 24, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    Hi Hels,

    I’m a practicing christian, 23 years old, but I still found your blog interesting. Interesting in the fact that you seem to have a similar scathing review of the church as Jesus did in his day. He called religious leaders (seminarians, theology junkies) hypocrites and fools because truth about life was staring them in the face and they still refused to believe. Truth as you define it and as Jesus defined it is different, but nonetheless, your reactions seem to match up in some respects. I too believe that Christianity shouldn’t be emotional, intellectual, or a crutch for the lack of self-identity, and Jesus believed that too. Emotions can’t drive one to love until death, neither can our intellect or will.. and this is the love we all want/need, i think you’re aware of that.. so the only thing to do is love these people with seminary degrees, and those that aren’t on the right path, and to love those that think their on the right path, and even those that condemn you because you’re on the “wrong” path. If you know who you are, then don’t let them tell you who you are. Jesus knew who he was so much, that he didn’t have to fight back for his identity. When my mind is still, who am i? what am i made of? What are my gutteral, core instincts? .. if you know these, you know where to begin with your speech and actions. Its a good first step to loving these people. alright i prolly said too much. but keep up the “T” warrior business.. i’m sure you’ll be bombarded with insults, and praises alike.

  • 7. Obi  |  August 24, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    samwitt said, “Emotions can’t drive one to love until death…

    Right, because love isn’t an emotion…?

  • 8. grace  |  August 24, 2008 at 7:32 pm

    Hels,

    I can’t speak for all the fundamentalists. But, I think it’s certainly possible for Christian people to affirm that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and also believe that not everyone who hasn’t come to conscious faith is going to be eternally lost. I know many orthdox Christian people who hold this view in the church.

    I can’t understand either, though, how someone could be an atheist, and a Christian believer, or deist at the sametime. That sounds pretty confusing, for sure.

  • 9. Mike  |  August 25, 2008 at 1:24 am

    HIS,

    While I havent personally read the book you have reviewed here, I have read a couple that marry evangelical Christian belief and scientific study. One is Genesis 1-4 and the other is Science and Faith, both by C. John Collins. I recommend both highly.

  • 10. HeIsSailing  |  August 25, 2008 at 7:09 am

    Mike, can you give me a brief synopsis of of Collins’ thesis? And as a Christian, why don’t you tell me about how you reconcile Biblical passages like Genesis 1-11 with modern findings in cosmology, astrophysics, evolution, etc…? I had my way, I would like to know yours.

  • 11. HeIsSailing  |  August 25, 2008 at 7:17 am

    Lorena, Chaplain, I have to agree with you both. Dowd makes a comment somewhere at the end of the book, concerning the evil done by God, particularly in Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, etc… He admits there is a terrible problem with how God is presented there, and I am commend him for that. But then he goes on to say that Scripture is what he finds God revealing to him whether it be in Nature or the Bible — and if it is not helpful to him, than it is just not Scripture, whether it is in the Bible or not.

    Again, on the one hand I commend his attitude, on the other, it seems just blatant creation of making God into his own image. I cannot engage in that. It seems to me, God is who he says he is in the Scriptures of our traditions, or he is not. We want to believe so desperately that we complicate matters so that we are able to. I don’t know.. but it just should not be so difficult to judge these things at face value.

  • 12. Michael Dowd  |  August 25, 2008 at 8:48 am

    Hels,

    I posted a rather lengthy appreciative response yesterday but don’t see it. Did it not get to you?

    ~ Michael Dowd

  • 13. Michael Dowd  |  August 25, 2008 at 9:34 am

    Hels,

    Comparing my writing style to The Secret was surely a low blow. :-) A few comments:

    • What didn’t work for you (52 stories in gray boxes, lots of epigraphs and quotes, etc) does work for many, perhaps even most. I’ve had dozens of people tell me that they had no idea so many religious and scientific people – some famous, many not – were into this “Sacred Science”, “Evolution Theology”, or “Religion 2.0″ perspective. When someone picks up a book and thumbs through it, deciding whether or not to buy it, if they see something that looks like a novel, with no breaks for the eye, they often put it down. I think this is one of the reasons why David Sloan Wilson’s book “Evolution for Everyone”, has not done better than it has.

    • Religions have always evolved and will continue to do so. Theologians have always attempted to take the best understandings of the nature of reality when they were alive and reinterpret their theologies, doctrines, and such in light of that. Let us hope my book and others like it are successful. Because (I suspect you will agree with me on this) the fact is that we will never achieve a just, healthy, and sustainably lifegiving future unless billions of religious people are committed to doing so. Weapons of mass destruction in the hands of those with end-times beliefs is a prescription for disaster on a scale we cannot imagine. My book is not written for the most conservative biblical fundamentalists. But it’s a step in the right direction. Assuming it does well in the coming decades, it’s likely to have done much good in the world. Over the course of the next 4-5 decades tens of millions (perhaps hundreds of millions) of Christians and other religious people will come into an evidential, science-based worldview. This is surely a good thing.

    • Regarding the nature of science, evolution, and especially the question of whether or not one can interpret the history of cosmos, Earth, life, and humanity in religiously inspiring ways, I recommend the following links:
    http://evolutionaryspirituality.wikia.com/wiki/Evolutionary_perspective and

    http://evolutionaryspirituality.wikia.com/wiki/Introduction_to_Evolutionary_Spirituality

    It’s also, of course, possible to interpret the very same history in non-inspiring ways. There’s no requirement or necessity of interpreting anything positively. What’s NOT possible is not interpreting it someway (see Primack and Abrams below).

    I especially recommend the following books to you and your readers:

    Robert Wright – Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny (Former U.S. President Bill Clinton was so impressed with this book that he instructed his entire staff to read it.)

    http://www.nonzero.org/

    Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Nonzero-Logic-Destiny-Robert-Wright/dp/0679758941/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1219621367&sr=1-1

    John Stewart – Evolution’s Arrow: The Direction of Evolution and The Future of Humanity

    http://www4.tpg.com.au/users/jes999/

    Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Evolutions-Arrow-Direction-Evolution-Humanity/dp/0646394975/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1219621408&sr=1-1

    My wife Connie Barlow’s book: Evolution Extended: Biological Debates on the Meaning of Life (1995, MIT Press):

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0262023733/qid=1125279783/sr=2-1/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_1/104-1049298-3891134?v=glance&s=books

    Joel R. Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams – The View from the Center of the Universe

    http://viewfromthecenter.com/buzz/reviews.html

    Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/View-Center-Universe-Discovering-Extraordinary/dp/B000MR8TEU/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1219621313&sr=8-1

    Keep up the great work!

    Co-evolutionarily,

    ~ Michael

  • 14. Michael Dowd  |  August 25, 2008 at 12:06 pm

    Sigh. I give up. I just spent another half hour writing another response but when I hit “submit” it just evaporated but did not appear on your blog. Clearly I’m doing something wrong or maybe the high tech gods have it out for me today. Oh well, such is life.

    In any event, thanks for your review. I didn’t find it scathing at all.

    Best,

    ~ Michael

  • 15. Michael Dowd  |  August 25, 2008 at 12:10 pm

    PS. Your picture of the book is the old Council Oaks Books version. It was picked up by Viking (Penguin Books) and reissued in June (with some minor improvements). See here for the new cover:

    http://thankgodforevolution.com/downloads

  • 16. Ubi Dubium  |  August 25, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    Michael – sometimes the spam filter catches posts. You might want to e-mail the administrator to see if that happened – he might be able to retrieve it for you. Also, when I am doing a long post, I copy it to a word-processing file before submitting it, in case my original vanishes into cyberspace. Hope that helps, since I’d love to read your response.

  • 17. HeIsSailing  |  August 25, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    Somehow… somehow, I just knew Mr Dowd would reply to this review. Maybe it was because Craig Blomberg replied to my review of ‘Case for Christ’ – but I had a funny feeling we would be hearing from you. This new online world is certainly amazing.

    Thanks for replying, Mr Dowd. Ubi is right – sometimes these replies get caught in the spam filter, particularly if there are lots of links in the reply. I will check and see if I can find the comment in question.

  • 18. HeIsSailing  |  August 25, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    See here for the new cover – http://thankgodforevolution.com/downloads

    Yes, this is the version I read. I merely submit text to this blog – someone with better tech skill than me fixes it up.

  • 19. HeIsSailing  |  August 25, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    Mr Dowd, I am sorry to say that I could find no comments waiting for moderation. The de-Convert, can you have a look?

  • 20. The de-Convert  |  August 25, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    Comment had lots of links so the spam filter caught it. I de-spamed them. See above.

  • 21. Michael Dowd  |  August 25, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    Thanks, de-Convert and HelsSailing!

    ~ Michael

  • 22. orDover  |  August 25, 2008 at 6:15 pm

    Doesn’t the idea that a sinful nature has been pasted down to humans from animal ancestors interfere with the Christian ideal of free will? Unless you think that God gave that first bacteria a chance to be bad or good, it seems he’s damned his creation to sin without them deserving it.

    Also, isn’t it hard to say that animals sin? Sin requires some level of conscious awareness of right and wrong. I can’t say that my cat sins when she kills a bird, or even a helpless baby bunny, because she kills to feed herself. I can’t imagine saying that nature itself is inherently evil. Even some evolutionary drives, like selfishness can’t be called evil because they serve an ultimate purpose of preserving either one’s self or one’s offspring.

    Even if you say that animals don’t sin, but humans to because of their conscious awareness of morality, there is still the problem of free will. Were we programmed to sin without being given a chance to be good in the first place? Where is the justice in that?

    Doesn’t this all smack of teleology? That God created nature to eventually yield humans?

  • 23. Obi  |  August 25, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    That’s assuming that we even have free will, which is seeming more and more unlikely…

  • 24. orDover  |  August 25, 2008 at 7:37 pm

    I’m in the “free will is most likely an illusion” camp, but I’m trying to work this out from a Christian point of view.

  • 25. Mike  |  August 25, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    HIS

    In response to your question in #10, Collins position is essentially that everyone needs to understand the text for what it says, based upon author, audience, context, genre, language, etc. What it basically shakes out to is that what most people today read into the biblical creation accounts isnt actually there. When we sync up what is there with what we know from science, there really isnt a problem with the two meshing. It is really helpful to gain his perspective because not only is he one of the foremost Hebrew scholars, he is also a graduate from MIT, so he truly is making claims about science from an insiders perspective.

    I would say that my perspective on reconciling the two is very similar. You and I have discussed different aspects of Physics before as it is something we both enjoy, and I have never had a difficulty with the two working together. For instance, I think that Physics’ theoretical concept of Dark Energy is an intriguing possible explanation for the biblical concept of Heaven being part of the created order, potentially everywhere, yet altogether intangible to us.

    Does that make sense? It is really hard to try to condense down such a complex topic in a few sentences, and I dont want to seem dodgy in answering, but that is the nature of the beast I guess (blogging, that is).

  • 26. HeIsSailing  |  August 26, 2008 at 12:07 am

    Michael Dowd responds to my review:

    When someone picks up a book and thumbs through it, deciding whether or not to buy it, if they see something that looks like a novel, with no breaks for the eye, they often put it down. I think this is one of the reasons why David Sloan Wilson’s book “Evolution for Everyone”, has not done better than it has.

    True, perhaps my critique of your writing style was a low blow. It makes sense that you want to make a best seller of this book, and it is certainly eye-catching. My reading style preference tends to go to the opposite extreme – tight and dense. No accounting for taste.

    I did read Evolution for Everyone, and I literally had to pay the library for damages after falling asleep reading it in the tub. Your book was definitely an improvment.

    Over the course of the next 4-5 decades tens of millions (perhaps hundreds of millions) of Christians and other religious people will come into an evidential, science-based worldview. This is surely a good thing.

    I hope you are right about this, and I think you are. I understand that you are not trying to convert Fundamentalists, or anybody else, to any particular religious view. I think that if the change that you speak of comes, it will be due simply to passing of generations and continued education. When I was a young boy in the late 1960s, I was taught by my grandparents that fossils were a trick of the devil and allowed by God to test our faith. You cannot educate a generation like that and expect them to function in the 21st Century. Fortunately, I escaped that environment and educated myself to become a physicist. From what I have seen, younger generations are more educated than this, and thus I am hopeful for the future. I share your concern that ignorance of science (and history for that matter) over bull-headed fundamentalism in this day and age is like giving dynamite to children.

    My main concern with your book is that it will likely alienate the very people who will most benefit from it. I cringed when listening to your interview on the Albert Mohler radio show. What good you had to say was overshadowed with the host trying to determine what kind of Christian you were. That really is a shame – but since I came from that culture I know it is to be expected. So if/when change comes, when enlightenment occurs, it will be slowly, with younger generations. But hopefully that change will occur.

    Thanks for your interest, and checking out this humble blogsite. Again, good luck with your ministry!!

  • 27. HeIsSailing  |  August 26, 2008 at 12:11 am

    Mike says:

    What it basically shakes out to is that what most people today read into the biblical creation accounts isnt actually there.

    kinda like calling the serpent in the Garden ‘Satan’?

    Sorry. Could not resist. Anyway this sort of intrigues me. How do you feel this compares with Hugh Ross’ work (e.g. Fingerprint ot God)?

  • 28. Steven Schafersman  |  August 26, 2008 at 1:57 am

    Hels,

    We evolution advocates are having a mini-debate about Michael Dowd, his book, and his ministry in Texas. Our state is beset by large numbers of aggressive, organized Creationists who are determined to damage science education in Texas by inserting Creationist-inspired and false “weaknesses” of evolution in the state’s science standards. We have been discussing if Michael Dowd’s idiosyncratic theology combining Christianity, evolution, and several other theologies will actually inspire any of our state’s many Creationists and Biblical Literalists to be less fearful of evolution and begin to accept it and the rest of science. We have generally concluded that Dowd’s true audience consists of members of liberal religions, New Age religions, Religious Science, and religious humanists, not the great mass of Fundamentalist Protestant Christians in Texas.

    I was referred to your review, I thought it was excellent, and I want to commend you on its insight and intelligence. I think you have perfectly captured the tone and meaning of Dowd’s book and ministry. As an evolutionary scientist and former religious humanist, I am aware of several predecessors who have attempted to use “evolution in harmony with religious belief as a way of understanding ourselves and fellow humans.” Like Dowd, they reinterpreted common religious and Christian theological concepts in terms of evolutionary biology. Ralph Wendell Burhoe, the founder and former editor of Zygon, developed an entire Christian theology based on natural selection and won the Templeton Prize for his effort. Dowd has the same right to do this as any other person, as you obviously sympathize, even if we don’t agree with the result. I also wish Mr. Dowd good luck with his ministry. Any anti-evolutionist he can convert to accept the fact of evolution will be a plus for civilization, even if the religious concepts involved are mythical and mushy.

    Steven Schafersman, President
    Texas Citizens for Science

  • 29. HeIsSailing  |  August 26, 2008 at 6:34 am

    Steven, thanks for your comment. As a scientist, I also share your concern and also that expressed by Dowd in his book. That concern is basically shedding the light of education on religious fundamentalists. As an ex-Fundamentalist Christian, I am certain they will reject any thesis made by Dowd (or anybody else), if it even hints of leading them away from that old time religion. That is not Dowd’s fault – he has an enlightened view and a noble vision and I commend him for it. But the very people who need this message the most will reject it based on his watered down Christianity. Again, this is not Dowd’s fault – and believe me, I hope I am wrong! But even in this modern age of ‘Expelled’ and Creation Museums, I am hopeful for the future.

    So what is the answer? Blast if I know. Hopefully Dowd’s book and lectures will be able to crack through some thick skulls where it is needed the most. My wife is a school administrator here in El Paso who has to walk on egg-shells when it comes to teaching science – and I understand it is much worse in East Texas. I work with fellow engineers, some of whom are convinced that the AntiChrist is about to make his grand entrance on earth preparing the way for a nuclear showdown with the United States and Israel. Such doomday scenarios and bull-headed ignorance from otherwise intelligent people concerns me a great deal. I don’t know what the answer is, other than education, education, education. Thank you for informing me about your organization.

  • 30. Mike  |  August 26, 2008 at 4:43 pm

    HIS,

    “kinda like calling the serpent in the Garden ‘Satan’?”

    I dont know why I didnt see that coming:)

    I have not personally read Hugh Ross’ work, and so probably shouldnt comment on it. Can you give a quick synopses?

  • 31. Paul  |  August 26, 2008 at 5:22 pm

    Hels, I completely agree with much of your assessment of Dowd. I think the reason Dawkins allowed his use of the letter from”Devil’s Chaplain” in his book is because Dowd ultimately agrees with him. Dowd advocates that the only way to rectify science and religion is to abandon all supernatural beliefs and relegate anything that is beyond the realm of known science to metaphor; no heaven, no hell, no eternal soul…this is in effect the same end of religion that Dawkins advocates. Most Christians won’t go for this, but there is a group of people that have some affinity for Dowd’s approach; I just don’t know for sure how they are.

  • 32. Michael Dowd  |  August 27, 2008 at 11:11 am

    Those who tend to respond most enthusiastically to the Evolution Theology I espouse in my book and public programs are secular and science-oriented people who are not particularly anti-religious, Unitarian Universalists (which includes many humanists, atheists, and religious naturalists), Roman Catholics, Mainline protestants, progressive evangelicals, New Thought folk (Unity and Religious Science), and New Age types that value real science.

    Those who rarely invite me/us to speak, rarely come to our programs, and tend to respond critically when they do, are young-earth creationists, religious fundamentalists of any kind, and the anti-religious crowd. Most in the latter group do wish me well and hope I’m effective in bringing religious people into an evidential worldview. But many are skeptical about my chances for success.

  • 33. Michael Dowd  |  August 27, 2008 at 11:16 am

    This may be my last post as I’m off to Hawaii (from Washington, DC) tomorrow morning and will be mostly offline until Monday or Tuesday.

    Keep up the good work!

    ~ Michael

  • 34. bipolar2  |  August 27, 2008 at 10:59 pm

    ** How the Invisible Hand kills off designing gods **

    >> The Invisible Hand writes its own script.

    Complex systems can and do arise from simple events, including random events.

    The first adequate theoretical explanation of the “emergence” of earth-bound empirical complexity from simple events in a determinate context arises (I think) from the Scottish economic philosopher, Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations (1776).

    Smith’s famous unintended “invisible hand,” which is microeconomic capitalism, arises from simple economic exchanges in a marketplace of fair competition among vendors. The market is an emergent (abstract) complex entity which arises from a sum-over of simple exchanges conditioned by their “environment.”

    There is no need for a ‘god of economics’ to design the microeconomic market — under specified mechanisms of exchange, it forms itself. Darwin had read Smith during his research period in London after his return from voyaging on HMS Beagle.

    >> Speciation by descent, not by essence.

    Darwin solved a supposedly insuperable empirical puzzle for a very wide (not universal) set of events in the history of life: how can complex life forms arise from simpler ones by recourse to solely “materialist” pathways.

    He knew exactly what he had done. In 1844, when Darwin put his mature ideas in writing with instructions to his wife that they be published should he die, natural theology was still intellectually respectable. By 1850, a growing fossil record certified by Owen combined with Lyell’s concept of deep time had prepared an acute mind like Tennyson’s to abandon Nature as solace without recourse to Darwin “Nature red in tooth and claw.” (“In Memoriam.” LVI 1850.)

    Darwin knew how maligned, even shunned he would be by Society — he was after all a bona fide “gentleman” quite aware of the perks of his class and esteem earned by his vast and thoroughly “respectable” published research.

    Forced by Wallace to “come out” in 1858, Darwin did not refer to his view with the long suspect term “evolution” but as “descent with modification.”

    What was so radical, so disturbing to his contemporaries? His mechanism for descent with modification which Darwin called “natural selection”.

    What makes natural selection so uncomfortable? In operation, it has no goal and achieves no purpose. Speciation is a random trial-and-error process dependent upon differential reproductive success — in a determinate ecological setting. (Darwin proposed no account of the origin of life . . . as the title of his great work makes clear — On the origin of species.)

    Life in its multitudinous complex forms requires no spiritual force, no élan vital, no teleological principle, no purpose, no design.

    Darwin tartly remarks, “Plato says . . . that our ‘necessary ideas’ arise from the preexistence of the soul, are not derivable from experience — read monkeys for preexistence.” M Notebooks (entry 128)

    A designer for evolution is as superfluous as a designer for economics. And for exactly the same reason.

    bipolar2
    © 2008

  • 35. HeIsSailing  |  August 28, 2008 at 6:20 am

    Michael Dowd says:

    …New Age types that value real science…

    oxymoron, anyone?

  • 36. HeIsSailing  |  August 28, 2008 at 6:34 am

    Mike asks:

    I have not personally read Hugh Ross’ work, and so probably shouldnt comment on it. Can you give a quick synopses?

    Fascinating character. He gained his PhD in astrophysics at the University of .. I think Toronto, but has not published in Astrophysical Journal or any other comparable research journals since the early 70’s, since he went into full time ministry. Old earth creationist – local Flood advocate, and his arguments against young earth creation are some of the best I have ever heard. He interprets the Gen 1 ‘days’ as long ages, and has some pretty elaborate arguments to reconcile Gen 1 with what we know from science. He basically takes Gen 1 as being from from the point of view of creator God being on the surface of the earth and taking the story from that point of view (ie, ‘let there be light’ means that eons ago, the opacity of the earth’s atmosphere reduced enough over time to allow sunlight to penetrate onto the earth’s surface). He cheats a little with the evolutionary chronology, and he also cheats with the Biblical text when attempting to explain the Gen 5 geneologies and arguing for a local Gen 6 flood, but he is interesting to me nonetheless.

  • 37. Mike  |  August 28, 2008 at 9:49 pm

    HIS,

    They sound kinda similar, although I think Collins would take issue with the whole “God’s viewpoint from earth.” Nonetheless, if you find Ross interesting, I think you will also enjoy and appreciate Collins.

    As far as my personal view on the whole “let there be light,” as I understand it, when the Big Bang happened, it was too dense at first for light to travel. As it spread and the inflation rate dropped below the speed of light, light could travel. Therefore, “let there be light” is actually quite an accurate depiction of the beginnings of the universe. Am I right in that?

  • 38. Rod  |  August 28, 2008 at 10:50 pm

    How does God look? Nobody saw God. Check that out everywhere. If we take the Bible’s attribute to Moses, Moses only felt the presence of God by the brush fire. That God created man in His likeness is therefore man’s assumption/perception.

    God is never concerned about his form. He is spirit. He can be anything living and non-living. That’s another perception. [Mine]

    “God is God only in so far as He knows Himself” – Georg W. F. Hegel

    God Created Heavens in six days and rested in the seventh? That must be astronomically awesome to people not even wearing G-strings. I buy the theory that God created man in a form no better than bacteria, that wriggled, swam and crawled on all four, later to walk on two feet to become what he is today, all that in a span of billions of years.

    Why did God waited for man? Only finite man measures time. A week is something to him. 5 or 50000000 billion of years is nothing to an INFINITE. Again everything about that is perception of God – mine.

    Anyway, anything written or conceived thousands of years ago is fine when there is nothing else. [Some of them (written during the time of ignorance) could be outmoded.]

  • 39. Rod  |  August 28, 2008 at 10:54 pm

    And I don’t think He’s done with man yet.

  • 40. Mike  |  August 29, 2008 at 12:43 am

    umm. okay. Was that to anyone specifically, or just a drive-by?

  • 41. Brad Feaker  |  August 29, 2008 at 11:28 am

    Mike,

    A classic drive-by…*sigh*

  • 42. SnugglyBuffalo  |  August 29, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    I recognize the blog URL, though, so if nothing else this isn’t the first time a contributor to that blog has been here.

    If only they’d take the time to dialog instead of trying to preach at us.

  • 43. LeoPardus  |  August 29, 2008 at 2:08 pm

    Seeing as Hugh Ross was brought up… he’s an odd fish. He has a good education, did some good work back in his day. He makes some good arguments, and just destroys a lot of the cosmological silliness of the young universe position. Then he suddenly goes off about how the earth used to have a global water canopy, and seems not the least aware of how impossible that is.

    Ah well. If you try to use some book written by primitive people to inform your science, you’re gonna end up going off the rails.

  • 44. Jfatz  |  August 30, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    ** Sigh. I give up. I just spent another half hour writing another response but when I hit “submit” it just evaporated but did not appear on your blog. **

    You might want to use Firefox, if you’re not already. It tends to auto-save the text in fields so you can just hit the back button once or twice and pull it back up.

    But frankly, if the internet age has taught me anything, it’s that you should always, always, ALWAYS save large text blocks–to your clipboard if nothing else–before hitting “submit.”

    “Save early, save often” doesn’t just apply to writing books, you know. ;-)

  • 45. PaintedPostDave  |  September 22, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    It appears that none of the posters have actually seen Michael Dowd in person. Last Spring I did at a local Bapist church (of all places). I got a huge kick out of his ideas. Furthermore, I got a chuckle from watching the Bapist Church members sit there and listen to his presentation. The minister is kind of a self centered egotist and local activist but I have to give him points for inviting Michael Dowd to his church. I would recommend attending his talk if he happens to be in your neighborhood.

    I don’t think it’s a matter of whether the posters think Michael Dowd is right or wrong. Rather, I suggest that it’s good simply that Michael Dowd has the freedom to make these presentations.

  • 46. onein6billion  |  October 22, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    Michael Dowd:

    “It was written mostly to help mainline Catholic and Protestant Christians and progressive evangelicals”

    In other words, move moderates towards science. But for atheists, you have nothing but an attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable.

  • 47. Reborn Babies  |  August 15, 2009 at 7:11 am

    I have never met Michael Dowd however the comments in this forum have enlightened me somewhat.

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Attention Christian Readers

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