You’ve seen the fish medallion, a symbol of Jesus Christ, and you’ve seen the version with legs and “Darwin” on it. Keep your eyes peeled this weekend for a van with the two painted on its side, dolloped with lipstick, kissing. The van belongs to a husband-and-wife team that has spent six years traveling around North America delivering the good news of evolution.
“We love the feeling of migrating,” says Rev. Michael Dowd, likening the couple’s travels to the wanderings of ancient nomadic tribes. Dowd last visited Knoxville in 2006 as a featured speaker at the University of Tennessee’s Darwin Day, and this week both Dowd and his wife Connie Barlow will speak at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.
Barlow is a science writer and an expert in assisted migration, which is the practice of helping animals safely pass through or around developed land. Forested corridors through populated areas and more elaborate schemes like highway underpasses designed for wildlife can reduce roadkills and other risks. Barlow’s own migrations give her a unique perspective on such problems and solutions. She also maintains thegreatstory.org, a website outlining “the 14-billion-year epic of cosmos, life and humanity told as a sacred story.”
Dowd recently published Thank God for Evolution, a book that has received praise from both Nobel laureates and religious leaders. It outlines his “inspiring, God-affirming” unification of science and religion. Part of a growing movement known as “evolution theology,” Dowd has discovered that evolution, properly understood, does not conflict with faith, but instead glorifies it.
Where traditional perspectives see the world as created, he sees it as creative. God’s work is ongoing, infused into a world that builds upon itself, and so too is revelation of truth a process that did not end when the books of the Bible were assembled. “Facts are God’s native tongue,” says Dowd, who sees science as a self-correcting enterprise designed to detect divine truths. That view would have been familiar to Charles Darwin, a Christian who saw his nature studies as a form of devotion. The scientific method arose directly from Christian philosophy, and most early science was supported by churches or religious schools.
Dowd did not always see things this way. He was once a young-earth creationist, sure that the earth was 6,000 years old and evolution a tool of Satan. But during his religious training, he found teachers who disagreed, including Thomas Berry, a self-described “Buddhist Christian.” “My head told me to reject him, but my heart said ask him to mentor me,” Dowd says. The broader perspective so affirmed his faith that it became a calling.
While he sympathizes with fundamentalists, he now feels such rigid views “trivialize God” and place religion in conflict with reality and vulnerable to rejection. Dowd’s thankgodforevolution.com website includes testimonials from teens and adults struggling with this conflict who were grateful to Dowd for showing them how to embrace both faith and knowledge. Evolution as it is understood in fundamentalist circles should be rejected, Dowd says. The problem, however, is that evolution is misunderstood, and his calling is to show how the theory can expand and affirm religious traditions.
Dowd’s philosophy goes beyond reconciling science and religion. He sees adoption of an evolutionary perspective as the inevitable next step toward a peaceful and healthy world, capable of cultivating fellowship among cultures and aligning laws and economies with what is best for us and our world. He speaks of living with integrity, “right with God and right with reality.” “We are life becoming aware of itself,” Dowd says. “Our role is to be a blessing to the world.”
He brings his hopeful, enthusiastic message to TVUUC on Tuesday, Nov. 25 at 7 p.m. Connie Barlow will speak at the church on Sunday during regular services and the weekly forum.