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Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World
Synopses & Reviews
Few issues have revealed deeper divisions in our society than the debate between creationism and evolution, between religion and science. Yet from the fray, Reverend Michael Dowd has emerged as a reconciler, finding faith strengthened by the power of reason.
With evidence from contemporary astrophysics, geology, biology, anthropology, and evolutionary psychology, Thank God for Evolution lays out a compelling argument for how religion and science can be mutually enriching forces in our lives.
Praised by Nobel laureates in the scientific community and religious leaders alike, Thank God for Evolution will expand the horizon of what is possible for self, for relationships, and for our world.
"Evolutionists Flock to Darwin-Shaped Wall Stain," ran a recent headline in the satirical newspaper the Onion. The picture showed breathless biologists worshipping a Shroud-of-Turin-like apparition of Charles Darwin's face on a concrete wall. Darwinian fundamentalist mystics among us? Well ... probably not. All the same, it's getting hard to tell the players without a scorecard in... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) America's most peculiar culture war: the battle between evolution and its enemies. Spectators often see this conflict as a straightforward affair. On one side, scientists pile up physical evidence; on the other, biblical literalists scorn that evidence as a snare of Satan. Adherents of "scientific creationism" and "intelligent design" blame evolution, with its explanation of how all living beings evolve through chance and natural selection, for everything from abortion to the Holocaust. Returning fire, the British biologist Richard Dawkins rides the best-seller list with his polemic "The God Delusion," dismissing not just creationists but religious folk generally as dupes and creeps. As if to annoy Dawkins, now comes a parade of books that jumble the sides and soften the tone of this conflict. One, by a self-proclaimed "evolutionary evangelist," declares evolution the harbinger of a new and more creative theology. In "Thank God for Evolution," itinerant preacher Michael Dowd urges the faithful to forget their fears of evolution and embrace its ability to illuminate old doctrines: Original sin, for instance, should be understood as the persistence of now-inappropriate urges from our evolutionary "lizard legacy." Then there is "The Faith of Scientists," a stout anthology of primary sources compiled by Dartmouth religion professor Nancy K. Frankenberry, which makes clear the rich variety of religious experience of scientists from Galileo and Darwin through Rachel Carson and Stephen Hawking. Though Dowd's book is New Agey while Frankenberry's is scholarly, both project the same air of outreach: See, scientists are spiritual, not soulless! They meditate on things unseen! Neither author, though, goes very far into the territory of traditional religion. Dowd, for all his syncretism, dismisses non-evolved creeds as "night" thinking and "flat-earth faith," which doesn't really capture why people might, to borrow a phrase from Barack Obama, cling to them. Frankenberry notes that she chose the word "faith" rather than "religion" intentionally, to cast a wider net; it allows her to pull in everything from the chilling transcript of Galileo recanting before the Inquisition in 1633 to the musings of the pugnacious Dawkins. (The latter's tart comment on what he calls "agnostic conciliation" applies to several of the book's other voices, and most of all to Dowd: "You have redefined science as religion, so it's hardly surprising if they turn out to 'converge.'") Why do so many Americans (even a major party's vice presidential nominee) remain skeptical or even hostile toward a foundational idea of modern biology? Surveys have found as few as 40 percent of Americans agree that humans evolved from earlier species, and a 2004 CBS poll indicated that more than half of U.S. adults accept the Bible's account of creation as true. It takes a third new book, Karl W. Giberson's "Saving Darwin," to cast some light. Giberson, a physics professor at Eastern Nazarene College, a historically Christian school, attacks the conundrum with eloquence and clarity. "Saving Darwin" offers readers two gifts: a cultural history of the anti-Darwin movement that details how its tenets, far from being the traditional doctrine of any church, were developed by a few cranks and fueled by larger, populist fears of secular culture; and an empathetic, comprehensible account of how the world looks if you believe in scientific creationism, as he once did. Brought up fundamentalist, the teenage Giberson dreamed of getting a Ph.D. in physics, the better to fight against Darwinism and related ideas, such as the Big Bang theory and radiocarbon dating. He carried a dog-eared copy of John Whitcomb's and Henry Morris' 1961 volume "The Genesis Flood," which argues that Noah's flood deposited all the "evidence" that the deluded see as the fossil record. But at college — Bible college, yet — he encountered actual science. By his sophomore year, he was "sliding uncontrollably" away from biblical literalism, wondering, as he abandoned doctrine after doctrine, whether he would lose his faith completely. He didn't. He concluded, eventually, that the untenable beliefs of Morris and his ilk were not essential to Christianity — unlike, say, the Resurrection. But his experience left him keenly aware of the emotional stakes of this ostensibly scientific topic. For its protagonists, Giberson argues, the war against evolution is "more like the war on drugs than a war of ideas." In the recent court cases over whether to teach "creation science" in public schools (all won by the evolution side), he sees not a sideshow of zealotry and superstition, but a "window into the fears and frustrations of ordinary people as they struggle with a science threatening their faith." Many people, not only fundamentalists, assume that the 1859 publication of Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" ushered in the secularist forces that all but undid religion in the next century. Giberson argues that the pressures on literal readings of scripture grew instead from forces within religion, notably the "higher criticism" of biblical texts pioneered by German theologians. David Friedrich Strauss' "The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined," translated into English by George Eliot in 1846, pioneered the investigation of the "historical Jesus" and cataloged inconsistencies in the Gospels, undermining the notion of an inerrant text. It created such a furor that as ships carried the book across the Atlantic, "religious militias lined up along the coast from Maine to Florida" to prevent its coming ashore. In the scramble that followed by churches to define and defend "the fundamentals" of Christian faith, doctrines incompatible with evolution (a literal Flood, a six-day Creation and an Earth just a few thousand years old) were hardly mentioned. It was much later, as evolution came to be associated in the popular mind with such nonscientific phenomena as social Darwinism, sterilization of the "feeble-minded" and Nazi race theory — and by extension with everything toxic in modernity — that disbelief in it became mandatory. Evolution's popular defenders, Giberson says, shortchange their own argument by barely noticing these "dark companions." Sure, social Darwinism and eugenics were bad science, badly applied; racists and dictators looked at evolutionary theory and took what they wanted. But the power and flexibility of the basic evolutionary insight, its ability to be many things to many people, are part of what makes it unsettling. A touch of Giberson-inspired empathy might actually build a bridge between those whom evolution scares and those who find it glorious. Amy E. Schwartz is a former Washington Post editorial writer and columnist. Reviewed by Amy E. Schwartz, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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About the Author
The Reverend Michael Dowd is America’s evolutionary evangelist. He and his wife, Connie Barlow, an acclaimed science writer, have traveled the country sharing their sacred view of cosmic, biological, and human evolution. Equally at home in both conservative and liberal settings, and uniquely gifted at building bridges between religious and nonreligious people, Rev. Dowd is passionate about sharing the fourteen-billion-year epic of evolution in ways that uplift and expand heart, mind, and soul. During the 1980s and 90s, Dowd was pastor of three United Church of Christ congregations, and has worked with diverse religious leaders across the country on environmental initiatives, peace and justice issues, and social reform. He holds a Master of Divinity degree. Rev. Dowd has served on the boards of the North American Conference on Christianity and Ecology; the Ohio Conference United Church of Christ (UCC) Integrity of Creation, Justice, and Peace task force; and the Hudson Valley Sustainable Communities Network. He has also served on the steering committees of the International Network of Biblical Storytellers and the UCC Network for Environmental and Economic Responsibility.
Table of Contents
Thank God for Evolution Preface
Prologue: Personal Journey
The Marriage of Science and Religion
Itinerant Evolutionary Evangelism
From "Adam and Eve" to Us—and Beyond
Science and Religion Spurring Each Other to Greatness
Part I. The Holy Trajectory Of Evolution
Chapter 1. Our Big Picture Understanding of Reality
Stories Within Stories
What Is the Great Story?
From Shape-Shifting Story to Unchanging Scripture
Chapter 2. Evolution Is Not Meaningless Blind Chance
Interpreting Our Immense Journey
The Mythopoeic Drive
Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle
The Role of Strife
The Role of Cooperation
The Role of Initiative
Chapter 3. Evolution and the Revival of the Human Spirit
The Universe Can Be Trusted
You Are Part of the Universe
Accept What Is and Be in Integrity
Grow in Evolutionary Integrity
Trusting the Universe Means Welcoming Challenges
Part II. Reality Is Speaking
Chapter 4. Private and Public Revelation
The Birth and Maturation of Public Revelation
Flat-Earth Faith Versus Evolutionary Faith
Toward an Evolutionary Christianity
Facts Are God's Native Tongue
Chapter 5. The Nested Emergent Nature of Divine Creativity
Thank God for the Hubble Telescope!
We Are Made of Stardust
The Gifts of Death
Litany: "The Gifts of Death"
Chapter 6. Words Create Worlds
Experiencing God Versus Thinking About God
The Split Between Religion and Science
From Clockwork "It" to Creative "Thou"
Day and Night Language
Chapter 7. What Do We Mean by the Word "God"?
No Less Than a Holy Name for the Whole
Prayer in a Nestedly Creative Cosmos
A Personal, Undeniable God
God or the Universe: What's in a Name?
The Role of Humanity in an Evolving Universe
Being "Faithful to God"
Part III. The Gospel According To Evolution
Chapter 8. Growing an Evolutionary Faith
Genesis in Context
Don't Throw Out the Apple
Chapter 9. REALizing "The Fall" and "Original Sin"
Lessons from Evolutionary Brain Science
Lessons from Evolutionary Psychology
Resurrecting "The Fall"
Your Brain's Creation Story
Reclaiming "Original Sin"
Chapter 10. REALizing "Personal Salvation"
The Challenges of Our Lizard Legacy
Furry Li'l Mammal to the Rescue
Thank God for Our Higher Porpoise!
Discerning Your Calling Exercise
Salvation Through Evolutionary Integrity
The DNA of Deep Integrity
Christ-like Evolutionary Integrity
REALizing "Saving Faith"
REALizing "the Gospel"
Part IV. Evolutionary Spirituality
Chapter 11. Evolutionary Integrity Practices
Taming Our Money Mind
Taming Our Lizard Legacy
Growing in Trust: Nurturing Humility and Faith
REALizing "Love Your Enemies"
Growing in Authenticity: REALizing "Remove the Plank"
Growing in Compassion/Responsibility: REALizing "Judge Not"
Growing in Gratitude: REALizing "Love God and Your Neighbor"
Chapter 12. Evolving Our Most Intimate Relationships
Touch and Tenderness
Playfulness and Humor
Meaningful Songs and Rituals
Synergy and Service
Chapter 13. Transformed by the Renewal of Your Mind
Deep Integrity Affirmations
Imagination Matters! Upgrading Your Mental Software
Part V. A "God-Glorifying" Future
Chapter 14. Collective Sin and Salvation
Wrongdoing in a Nestedly Emergent Universe
Collective Sin in an Age of Information
Cofronting Institutional Sin
Chapter 15. The Wisdom of Life's Collective Intelligence
On Earth As It Is in Heaven
Collective Deep Integrity
Conversation and Creative Emergence
Co-Intelligent Social Technologies
The Core Commons
Cultivating Discernment Within the Whole
Co-creating Our Evolutionary Spiritualities
Chapter 16. Knowing the Past Reveals Our Way Forward
The Cosmic Century Timeline
Aligning Self-Interest with the Well-being of the Whole
Who and What Are We, Really? And Why Are We Here?
Our Sense of Self and Our Role in the Body of Life
Chapter 17. Beyond Sustainability: An Inspiring Vision
Major Challenges in the Next 250 Years
Long-term and Short-term Positive Trends
Likely Good News in the Next 250 Years
Chapter 18. Our Evolving Understanding of "God's Will"
Responding to Critics Who Reject Religion Because of Scripture
Transcending Biblical Values and Scriptural Morality
REALizing "Holy Scripture" and "Divine Revelation"
Public Revelation: "The Ever-Renewing Testament"
REALizing Godly Morality and Ethics
Wider Critics of Care, Compassion, and Commitment
REALizing "Jesus as God's Way, Truth, and Life"
Appendix A. "Good and Bad Reasons for Believing" by Richard Dawkins
Appendix B. Realizing the Miraculous
Miracles Through the Ages
REALizing "the Virgin Birth"
REALizing "Christ's Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven"
Who's Who and Sources of Quotations
What Our Readers Are Saying