Monday, November 10, 2008

Thank God for Evolution the title of a book by "evolutionary evangelist" Michael Dowd, whom I have just read about in Mountain Xpress. Dowd was a born-again Christian when he met Connie Barlow, an atheist scientist. (What do you get when you cross...?) And now, the two of them have taken their act on the road:

The couple are now full-time “evolutionary evangelists” who live on the road—in a van emblazoned with a Jesus fish and Darwin fish in a lip-lock—preaching the good word. “Our goal is to inspire people of all ages and theological orientations to embrace the history of everyone and everything in personally and socially transforming ways,” Dowd writes.

His enthusiasm for the subject is obvious from page one; his excitement contagious. Chapters cover many facets of science ("Thank God for the Hubble Telescope!,” “Lessons from Evolutionary Brain Science” and “Furry Li’l Mammal to the Rescue") and religion ("Experiencing God versus Thinking About God,” “God or the Universe: What’s in a Name?” and “Genesis in Context") but the book really comes into its own in later chapter where Dowd explores the place of evolution in expanding spirituality. There’s more than a hint of Zen philosophy and nods to psychology. Yet, even as the author continues to expend his scope via the discussion of evolution, he continues to return to religious—mainly Biblical—ideology. For readers who are either uninterested in or uncomfortable with Christian doctrine, this may be a deal breaker (just as many ideas that Dowd posits in regard to evolution may be deal breakers for fundamentalists). The author does traverse this mine field with impressive delicacy, however. “For me today, the interpretation of the Gospel that lives most vibrantly is this: “Jesus as God’s way, truth and life” means that to the extent that I live in evolutionary integrity, as Jesus lived, I am living God’s way, manifesting God’s truth and bringing God’s vitality and life-enhancing service into the world,” he writes.
Over on the web site, there are some fascinating FAQs:
Why are you so enthusiastic, even evangelistic, about evolution?

I see sacred views of evolution as the Good News (the ‘gospel’) of our time, personally and collectively. I thank God for the entire 14-billion-year epic of cosmic, biological, and human emergence, because an inspiring interpretation of the history of everything and everyone builds bridges, provides guidance, and restores realistic hope for individuals and families, for humanity, and for the body of life as a whole.

How do you see evolution ‘building bridges, providing guidance, and restoring realistic hope’?

When I say that a meaningful view of evolution “builds bridges,” I mean that it reconciles head and heart, reason and faith. It also harmonizes a variety of religious perspectives—and these with nonreligious points of view, as well. More, it helps people not just tolerate differences, but actually value the diversity. I have found that individuals whose families suffer from internal religious discord are especially grateful to take on a sacred view of evolution—precisely because this perspective really can build bridges.

When I suggest that an inspiring evolutionary worldview “provides guidance,” I mean two things. First, a sacred view of evolution offers a more grounded and widely acceptable basis for ethics and moral instruction than ancient texts could ever hope to offer. This is a crucial realization. Second, a ‘holy view of deep-time’ shows how our way into the future is clear and unambiguous. Or to use religious language, it reveals how ‘God’s will’ is obvious and universal.

Finally, once we grasp that a meaningful view of cosmic history actually can build bridges and does provide important guidance, a third reason for thanking God for evolution becomes apparent: it “restores hope.” A sacred view of evolution restores realistic hope because—whatever our different beliefs about an afterlife or possible supernatural intervention—we can see how our way forward in this world becomes clear—and realistically possible.

Can you say more about how you see evolution restoring hope?

Religious zealotry that slides into violent action now threatens a whole new threshold of danger for the simple reason that exceedingly destructive weapons are now small enough to conceal and within the realm of possibility for motivated individuals and groups to obtain. For this reason, anything that bridges faith and reason and helps reconcile opposing religious viewpoints surely restores hope. Moreover, in chaotic and uncertain times, like now, when things seem to be getting better and better, and worse and worse, faster and faster, anything that provides practical guidance for moving into a just and thriving future, personally and collectively, restores hope too.

On a more personal level, a sacred evolutionary worldview restores hope because it offers a deeper, truer understanding of human nature than non-evolutionary approaches possibly can. It’s no longer a mystery why we (and our loved ones) are tempted by the things that we’re tempted by, why we struggle with the things we do, and why staying in integrity for any length of time typically requires growing in humility, authenticity, responsibility, and serving a larger purpose, with the support of others. Understanding the religious implications of evolutionary brain science and evolutionary psychology is truly empowering. Evolutionary spirituality, which is informed by these disciplines, offers lasting freedom from troublesome habits and addictive thoughts and behaviors. And it does so not by rejecting earlier ways of speaking about ‘our inherited proclivities,’ or ‘our unchosen nature,’ (such as ‘original sin’) but by validating such traditional language and reinterpreting ancient insights in light of what has been, and is still being, revealed through the empirical sciences.
Okay, I admit it, I like this guy.

Listening to: Uncle Tupelo - Looking for a Way Out
via FoxyTunes