Whether Michael Dowd will succeed in reconciling the ways of the ancient religions to the facts of postmodern science, and in doing so, transform our lives by ending the dangerous contention existing between and among the various claims to "the way, the truth, and the life," remains to be seen. He is aiming for nothing less than the complete consilience of science and religion, a merging that, if successful, will be of inestimable value to humankind. I greatly admire the wisdom and intelligence and learning that Dowd brings to this very difficult task. I am amazed at his creativity and his temerity. His idea reminds me of something relatively simple, yet earth-shaking, something that might come from an Einstein or a Gandhi. I am not exaggerating.
The idea is this: we can accept as public truth and as "daytime" knowledge the facts about our world and ourselves as revealed through physics, cosmology, evolutionary psychology, cognitive science, neuroscience, geology, etc., while maintaining our faith in our religious heritage. We can still believe in Jesus Christ as our savior and be guided by the wisdom in the Bible while knowing that the earth really is four and a half billion years old and that, yes, we did indeed evolve from a long extinct ape-like creature.
It might be that Dowd is inventing a discipline. Call it Evolutionary Theology. Because we are educated we know that evolution is a fact; and because we believe in a God who cares and is intimately involved in this world, we therefore must see evolution as God's way of working in this world. But can the denotative words of the Bible be reconciled with such an understanding? Dowd's way around this conundrum is to understand that the Bible, inspired by God, was written in a way comprehendible to the people at the time, using words and images and ideas consistent with their world view. To write in the way of the modern world with the modern understanding would be unintelligible to those people and counterproductive.
This is a nice dodge (if I may) with some plausibility. I am satisfied with just saying that where the Bible is denotatively wrong, it is agreeable to interpret it symbolically. Dowd shies away from this direct approach because it would not help him with his consilience since evangelicals and others who believe in the literal truth of the Bible are sworn enemies of symbolic interpretations.
Dowd wants to celebrate evolution as our "cherished creation story." (p. 37) He sees facts as "God's native tongue." (p. 68) He makes a distinction between the "day language" of fact and the "night language" of meaning, between public revelation and private revelation, between reason and reverence (see especially p. 104). In this way differing utterances and experiences can be reconciled. I was especially enthralled because a friend of mine had the most intense dreams and visions in which she saw truths about the "other side" that she wanted so much for us all to accept. My way of accepting her views without compromising my own beliefs and experiences, was to refer to "public truths" and "private truths." No one can deny your experience. It is "true," but it is a private truth. Of course some people want more than that. They want their truth to be the public truth, and therein lay a problem of immense force: think of the differences between Christianity and Islam, between both of them and, say, Buddhism.
Dowd defines God as "the Ultimate Whole of Reality" (p. 77) and a wonderful definition it is! How tiny, how petty, how insignificant and sadly anthropomorphic seem the lesser gods! Dowd writes, "God cannot be limited to the world we humans can sense, measure, and comprehend: Ultimate Reality transcends and includes all that we can possibly know, experience, and even imagine." (p. 109) He goes on to reveal that the God he believes in is like the God of the Vedas, Ineffable and indescribable: "Any 'God' that can be believed in or not believed in is a trivialized notion of the divine." (p. 109)
Dowd calls the Big Bang of cosmology the "Great Radiance," and again what a way with words and ideas he has. He involves us all personally with the cosmic act of creation by reminding us that we are star dust, that we are the universe becoming conscious of itself. This identification with all of creation is a marvelous thing. Instead of narrowing identifying with only our group or nation or religion how much better it is to identify with the entire cosmos. There is a great sense of freedom and wonder in doing so, and how petty seem these worldly conflicts when measured against the stars.
One of Dowd's most compelling and wondrous ideas is to recognize that the entire universe is evolving. He writes, quoting physicist Brian Swimme, "Earth, once molten rock, now sings opera." (p. 121) And we are an integral part of that evolution. Instead of being alone in a vast, uncaring, mindless universe, we are "a mode of being...an expression of the Universe. We didn't come into the world; we grew out from it, like a peach grows out of a peach tree." (pp. 120-121)
In short, what Michael Dowd has done in this remarkable book is to reconcile science with the tenets of the ancient religions, especially the Christianity he was born into. In a sense this is a distinction between what he calls "flat-earth" Christianity and "evolutionary" Christianity. Throughout Dowd demonstrates a strikingly thorough understanding of evolutionary psychology, cognitive science and neuroscience, not to mention cosmology and even some physics. I say "strikingly" because it is so rare for someone formally trained in theology to have such a broad education. After this book achieves the kind of currency I expect it to achieve, perhaps the clergy will be respected (as they once were) as truly knowledgeable people.
--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"
on October 29, 2007
As a recovering Biblical literalist who was raised to "believe" radical religious views that are completely out of sync with reality, I was overjoyed to discover a book that finally shares what I have known in my heart and head since I was a child, namely that everything is sacred. Everything is divine. All land is holy land. All water is holy water. My existential angst is finally over. This beautiful book turns religion right-side up, reality inside out and gives a new way to EXPERIENCE rather than just EXPLAIN God. The insights it shares breath new life into old scriptures by helping to reveal religious meaning that just makes sense in light of modern revelations about reality. We literally are the first life form we know of that has a choice in its own evolution. If that isn't a second coming idea that lifts humanity to the right hand of God, then I don't know what is. I strongly recommend this book to anyone feeling "left behind" by the end-of-times doom-and-gloomers. All of a sudden you'll see how challenges like global warming are just the evolutionary nudge we need right now to evolve into a species that truly and deeply cares for ourselves, each other and our precious planet, the only known one of its kind. Welcome to Heaven!
on November 1, 2007
Michael Dowd draws on the wisdom of religion and the revelations of science to make sense of the world in a way that is a gift to me. I have heard Michael Dowd speak several times, and am thrilled that he has put these ideas into writing. I have found the integration of evolution and religion to be the most mind-expanding, heart-opening, grace-giving idea I have ever experienced. At the risk of sounding corny, I am just plain effusive about improvements in my life that have happened as a result of understanding the ideas presented in "Thank God For Evolution!" Since reconciling evolution with religion, all the important relationships in my life have improved. I experience more joy in my life and have more moments of grace than ever. I also have a realistic and grounded hope that gives me courage to meet the social and ecological challenges facing our society and the Earth. Through this new understanding of evolution that Dowd presents, religion finally makes sense. For years, as a molecular biologist who studied evolution, I "believed" that evolution meant there was no God and worse, that the universe was unfriendly. A closer examination of growing amounts of evidence helped me discover that the universe is a friendly place. What scientists of all disciplines (and all faith traditions) are revealing about evolution is convincing me more and more that the universe is on a trajectory toward greater complexity, cooperation and consciousness. Michael Dowd beautifully articulates this in "Thank God for Evolution!"
Another of my favorite things about Dowd's teachings is how he finds universal spiritual/evolutionary impulses in specific Christian metaphors. This gives me the double blessing of having far greater appreciation for my own Christian roots, but also the appreciation to know that other religions have their own specific symbols that represent the same universal truth.
I like the "evolutionary integrity practices" that Dowd includes in his book. In the light of evolutionary science, some spiritual practices that once seemed strange now make sense. For example, I used to think speaking in tongues was weird. After reading Dowd's evolutionary explanation for how this practice quiets the mind, I thought I would experiment. So I just let myself speak in random syllables (nobody was around). Sure enough! The chatter in my brain stopped, replaced by interesting sounds, followed by laughter and a useful change in perspective.
on October 28, 2007
This book is not only a fascinating read, but is also extremely important.
I should, as a matter of full disclosure, say that I have been working with (not for) the author for three years, which I don't see as a conflict of interest to recommend this book. I'm working with Michael Dowd because I believe in the profound importance of what he and his book are saying. I think his book is a gift to the world -- particularly to future generations -- and so it is a gift to recommend it. Here's why:
I see at least 3 layers of importance for Thank God for Evolution!...
1. At its surface layer it is a Christian book brilliantly weaving Christianity and modern evolutionary understandings into a single fabric of celebration, integrity, and universal co-creativity. Although I don't think of myself as Christian, the vast majority of Americans are Christians, and I expect the vast majority of them will find Dowd's perspective inspiring and useful. It will deepen and ground their ability to live the benign spirit of their faith while shaking loose from some of its worst downside. Given what's been going on lately, this will greatly benefit America, other "Christian nations", and the rest of the world.
2. There is a war raging between religion and science. It has been going on since Copernicus. It settled down to a quiet roar during the industrial era when both agreed to a sort of "separate but equal" dynamic tension. But with the recent growth of deep collective uneasiness, with recent abuses in both religious and secular realms, and after recent cynical efforts to merge religion and politics for partisan gain, the suppressed tensions are once again boiling over. Both sides have initiated clever, passionate, virulent attacks of all kinds in many forums -- in education, media, politics, and courtrooms. As our already tenuous social fabric tears along these lines, I know of no one who has created a more brilliant resolution to that war than Dowd. As with any war, there will be extremist holdouts on both sides, but Dowd has created such a deeply satisfying peace plan, one that validates both sides and creates a climate in which the vast majority of partisans can lay down their weapons and get on with the work of enhancing their shared humanity. Which brings me to the final importance of this book, and the real reason why I'm working with Dowd.
3. We face extinction. And we are pushing much of life on earth into extinction. Extinction is an evolutionary issue. We are heading for an evolutionary train wreck of our own making.
Species and civilizations go extinct when they and their ways no longer "fit" the conditions in which they live. 20th and 21st century culture, economics, industry, politics, media, education, religion, and more, were not designed for our collective survival (i.e., sustainability) but for material growth and (increasingly concentrated) power. We don't "fit" and we are about to take ourselves out of the evolutionary game. ("Survival of the fittest", incidentally, has been misconstrued as being primarily about strength, competitiveness, and power. But it turns out that awareness, co-operation, adaptability, and alignment of self-interest with the well-being of the whole are even more important, especially at this stage.)
Our challenge is to become more collectively conscious and choiceful. Dowd's work is part of a larger effort to free us from evolutionary determinism, to wake us up so we can see clearly and choose, so that we become conscious celebrants and choiceful agents in the evolutionary Story in which we are inevitable participants. We can see everything that is happening to us, and everything we are doing, as part of our current evolutionary chapter, and we can live it all much more consciously -- especially by wisely transforming our cultures and social systems which have such profound impact on the world.
This is only secondarily a challenge to our intelligence. It is primarily a matter of spirit. Who do we think we are? What do we think we are doing here? How do we relate to the world? What really matters? Dowd offers radically new, incredibly deep new answers to these, embedded in an inspiring 13.7 billion year Story in which we come alive as never before. Alive enough that we just might meet the challenges we face and come out the other end renewed, having evolved into new people and a new civilization of richly diverse, vibrantly alive cultures that work, that "fit" the world -- a world which is suddenly better for our being here.
As I wrote in my original endorsement of this book, "Thank God for Evolution! sweeps us into a freshly minted universe, in which both evolution and religion are transformed, enlivened, and blessed in ways they cannot be when warring against each other. They both come out shining--and profoundly relevant together, not only in the world we live in, but in the very different world that is just around the corner. Michael Dowd treats us to an alluring, prophetic glimpse of something very positive that is suddenly very possible. This is a truly original book at the near edge of a deeply hopeful future."
on October 27, 2007
It feels presumptuous to say anything negative about a book which contains 6 pages of its own advance rave reviews -- have all those Nobel laureates actually read this book? -- but for me this is a 3-1/2 star book. I have three main problems with it.
First, it is written for Christians, and those of us who are not -- in spite of the author's encouragement to read on anyway -- have to unwrap a lot of terms which need not have been wrapped up in the first place. Calling the urges of the reptilian brain "Original Sin" is helpful to exactly whom? Fundamental Christians, who likely won't read this book anyway, won't buy this slippery retrofit. And non-Christians are just going to feel like we've been bounced back into the Dark Ages, albeit on a cool bungee cord. Likewise with other Christian terms like Christ, salvation, and speaking in tongues. What Dowd has done with these is what Christian Music has done with Heavy Metal.
Second is the cutesy language. I understand and appreciate that Dowd wanted to make the material accessible to as broad a (Christian) brow as possible, but "Higher Porpoise?" What is this, summer camp?
Last, Dowd treats evolution as the long-sought Theory of Everything. Any overarching metaphysic, however cosmologically correct, eventually takes on the magisterium of orthodoxy. And coupled with Dowd's overweening grooviness, what we have is a new pop religion centered around what Rachael Ray might call E-V-O-L.
I did give the book 4 stars, however, in spite of the above and my sense it only deserved 3-1/2. It is a well-organized, well-written book, and as much as I despised summer camp, Dowd's spirit is infectious and his humor reasonably adult. And the premise that The Great Story can, even should, relexify religious symbols, while not original to Dowd, is presented with authentic conviction.
If you (who aren't Christian) are willing and able to get past the author's nostalgia for Evangelical Christianity, and can suspend your annoyance at some of his sophomoric word play, there really is much here of value. But I still think Dowd's attempt to kiss and make up (literally -- check out his bumper sticker of Jesus and Darwin fishes smooching) detracts from the book's overall usefulness.
on December 2, 2007
Can religion and science be bridged? If there is anyone who can do it, Michael Dowd is my candidate. Having watched his DVD presentations, seen his live presentations, and now, read his book, I'm convinced that his charismatic, yet scientific and spiritual approach, has the potential to unite atheists with liberal Christians in a compelling view of the Universe as our Sacred Story.
For starters, let me say that I love the provocative cover of this book, which superimposes the Christian Pisces fish with the Darwin fossil and the fish of nature and science. I think of it as a Trinity of sorts, but one that takes the wider view of reality.
Of particular interest, are four concepts that Dowd expresses in a way that anyone can understand.
1. God can be used as a proper name for the largest system in the universe that includes all other systems.
2. Evolution has am inherent directionality toward higher levels of creativity and complexity.
3. Day and night language are two different ways to describe the same phenomenon, one in a metaphoric, emotional, spiritual way, and the other with cool reason, science, and evidence.
4. Death is a natural and necessary change in the universe that underlies the birth of new creativity.
While I found wading through the book's initial God language a chore, it was worth the effort to uncover the commonality that is acceptable to an atheist or a naturalist as well. I encourage Dowd to produce an audiobook in his own enthusiastic language.
on October 29, 2007
For some time I've been on a journey in search of a definition of "God" that makes sense. I've read many of the books by Marcus Borg, Dominic Crossan and John Shelby Spong and have had the good fortune to be at seminars by them and by members of the Jesus Seminar. Brian Swimme and Richard Dawkins have added to the knowledge of the Cosmos and of evolution. Only two weeks ago I had the good fortune of stumbling across the ThankGodForEvolution website by Michael Dowd and ordered this book. It was a book that you can't put down! Dowd has done a superb job of tying everything together for those of us who are unwilling to accept a mono-theistic deity model of God, even as a metaphor.
It is a book for those who are willing to move beyond a "Sunday School" theology of faith and discover how truly awesome God is when they can discover what God is. It is a book for those who can't accept the literal interpretation of the scriptures leading to the violent theology of a God of revenge that must be satisfied by killing "His" son. And it is a book for those atheists who will be surprised to find that there are a growing number of people of all faiths who don't believe in the same God that they don't believe in.
on November 19, 2007
It is no secret that science and religion have had a painfully tumultuous relationship. After Copernicus established that we are not at the center of the universe, Darwin told us we evolved from apes. Then Freud told us that we are products of a cold, cruel universe that is trying incessantly "to destroy us relentlessly." On the other hand, many fundamental theologians have been denying the findings of science, completely ignoring evidence for all kinds of natural phenomena, from stellar evolution to radio-carbon dating. Reverend Michael Dowd admits that he was one who did just that. In his wonderful book, THANK GOD FOR EVOLUTION!, Reverend Dowd tells of being confronted by faculty and colleagues at his Christian college on the issue of evolution. He was repulsed that "believers" could buy into the devilish theory. Slowly, however, with impetus from many trusted friends and scholars, he was converted. One of those friends is Father Thomas Berry, perhaps the most prolific eco-theologian of our time. I would call Reverend Dowd a worthy disciple of Father Berry, which is a compliment of the highest order. Moreover, Dowd is a disciple with a mission.
His mission is accomplished in THANK GOD FOR EVOLUTION! It is passionate and convincing, humorous and intense, and challenging and healing. The message for pastors and theologians is that to deny evolution is to submit religion to a sterile future, to collapse the value of recognizing the magical symmetry of cosmic patterns, planetary mindfulness, and personal integrity. To see God in evolution is to see purpose in the life we are given. The message for scientists is that in order to convince "flat earthers" and others of an orthodox persuasion, the story of creation and evolution needs to be vitalized. It needs to be expressed in terms of grandeur, with the elegance that it is deserving. The mutual lesson for scientists and theologians is that a new worldview is in order, that to reach beyond the conflict true dialogue and integration is needed.
What appeals to me most about the book is Dowd's clear and distinct explication of the way in which nature could serve as the catalyst for that integration. Whether viewed in secular or sacred terms, the understanding that nature is a Thou to be honored is paramount to survival of all kinds of planetary species, humans included. To see nature as a teacher as well as the source of life could help heal our dysfunctional environmental relations. It is not just our environmental relations that are addressed by Dowd, but social ones as well. I really do believe he is right: peace will not be reached between religious factions unless believers become "evolutionary minded." In short, the Great Story captured in Dowd's book offers hope and compassion in our polarized world.
on October 29, 2007
My involvement with this book has allowed me to carefully read it more than once, and to think about its ideas, organization and style before its release this week. It's a great book in all of these categories, and for many, probably the most important book they'll read in a long time.
The best feature of this book is the ideas it presents. It starts out in sections I and II with an overview of how profoundly our knowledge of our universe has grown over the past several hundred years, and how this fits tightly together to give us a clearer view than ever before. Many of the facts that we've memorized in school are shown to be wonderful in their own right, and are woven into a comprehensive tapestry instead of a dry list. By the end of this section, Michael shows that any idea of God that can be disbelieved in isn't much of a God. This view expands God beyond the commonly held view, and shows how glorious God is. It's a natural progression from there to expand the scope, reality and power of traditional Christianity into today's world, which is done in sections III and IV. These sections contain life-changing ideas and practices that powerfully combine both rationality and spirituality. Too often in today's culture, the emotional, powerful practices are trapped in shells of irrationality, making them inaccessible to many - that is, until now. There are too many seismic ideas to describe here, and to try would only give a pale shadow of each, so I'll have to simply recommend the book instead. The final section (section V) points us toward the future, a future that can be God-glorifying and deeply fulfilling for all, regardless of religion. At this point (or sooner) it becomes obvious to the reader why the whole "science vs. religion" debate is a distraction from the real task in life.
These ideas can and do transform lives - both those of believers and of skeptics. These ideas are reason not just to read this book, but to reread it from time to time to recharge one's life. These ideas alone are more than enough reason to make this a great book. However, it's worth mentioning the organization and the writing style as well. The organization of the book is logical and like a good home heating system, is easy to forget because it works. The writing style makes this book fun to read. The value of the ideas and worldview of the book would be enough to outweigh poor or uninviting writing, but luckily, they don't have to. Michael writes from his heart and his highly varied experience to pull us viscerally into his world, making this book both compelling and fun. As an overbooked father, I was amazed to see myself zip through this book, finding time hidden in the nooks and crannies of my life.
Lastly, it's important to mention the Christian basis of this book. The book shows how Christianity can be a strong foundation for a healthy, wholesome life. This makes it a powerful book for modern Christians and especially for Christians who have been feeling that something is lacking in their spiritual lives. This book is a much needed shot in the arm for mainstream Christianity, which has not had the growth and energy of fundamentalist Christianity in recent decades. Fundamentalists of any faith who are open minded enough to be reached by this book will also benefit greatly. At the same time, those who have rejected religion will find a lot here that reinvigorates their lives - they'll simply need to repackage the ideas as they read, which isn't too difficult. After all, as humans we all have similar spiritual needs, whether we admit it or not. Religion need not deny nor just "tolerate" the facts of the Universe. Real religion must instead celebrate them to the Glory of God.
on October 29, 2007
"Thank God For Evolution!" is a treasure for our time! Here are ten thousand reasons and ways to step out of our little western-world thought prisons, our self-absorbed fears, and enter the grandeur and grit of our true identity as humans. Through Michael Dowd's gifted writing, information becomes inspiration, and the discoveries of the sciences are recognized as the on-going Revelation of a Cosmos which is God's Self-Expression and Delight. We encounter the dynamics and patterns of a Universe where we and everyone and everything belongs!
Michael weaves together the challenges and implications of realizing that we participate (whether we're conscious of it or not) in an Evolutionary universe at every level of our being. He creates a colorful tapestry of practical wisdom: scientific information, story-telling, personal sharing, religious mythology, the hard questions, sometimes playful but always down-to-earth language, great quotes from elders and wisdom figures of every era and tradition. Thank you Michael for this great resource and the joyful invitation to evolve!