Rev Michael Dowd
|Alma mater||MDiv – Palmer Seminary, BA - Evangel University|
|Known for||evolutionary theology, epic of evolution, religious naturalism|
Michael Dowd (Born, 1958 - ) is an American evangelist minister, evolutionary theologian and religious naturalism advocate. His 2008 book, Thank God for Evolution:How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World, has been endorsed by six Nobel Prize-winning scientists and a host of religious leaders (Christian, Jewish, Catholic and Unitarian). Its initial success prompted Penguin in mid 2008 to purchase the worldwide rights to it. This book, along with his ‘Epic of Evolution’ gospel and nomadic ministry, have been featured numerous times in media ranging from The New York Times Magazine and The Washington Post to the National Catholic Reporter, National Public Radio, the BBC, CBC and web sites. On April 2, 2009, Dowd at the United Nations addressed the lack of an evolutionary worldview which has resulted in a global integrity crisis that requires a deep-time view of human nature, values and social systems to provide a solution for going forward.,. He maintains a Christian perspective although he accepts the story of evolution. Some who take the Bible literally have criticized his point of view.
Dowd graduated from Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri summa cum laude receiving a B.A. in philosophy and biblical studies. He went on to earn a Master of Divinity degree with honors at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary (now Palmer Seminary) in Philadelphia. Dowd then served as a congregational minister for nine years in churches in Massachusetts, Ohio, and Michigan.
Dowd was ordained as a United Church of Christ minister and served three churches in the 1980s and 1990s before the UCC disfellowshipped him for misconduct in 1995. In a letter, he acknowledges having an "affair" with a deacon in his first congregation.
During this time he allied with Jewish, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Unitarian Universalist, and New Thought leaders across America on environmental, peace, and justice issues. In 1995 he worked on social and environmental issues that were being considered by Congress. He was Religious Organizer for the Washington D.C.--based National Environmental Trust. From 1997 to 2000 he headed The Portland Sustainable Lifestyle Campaign, in Portland, Oregon, the first government-funded program designed to produce large-scale voluntary citizen behavior change along stewardship lines in the United States. In 2000 and 2001 he served as Campaign Manager of Global Action Plan's EcoTeam and Livable Neighborhood Programs in Rockland County, New York.
His 1991 book, EarthSpirit: was one of the first attempts to look appreciatively at biblical Christianity from the perspective of a modern cosmology. His 2008 book, Thank God for Evolution:, helped to popularize the narrative story of cosmic, planet, life and social evolution (Epic of Evolution). He become an itinerant "evolutionary evangelist" in 2004. Dowd and his wife travel teaching their "Gospel of Evolution." They present their case for "the marriage of religion and science" at events sponsored by a diverse group of denominations, including Christian, Unitarian Universalist, Unity Church, Free Thinkers, Religious Science, secular humanism and Religious Naturalists venues.
|“||Humanity is the fruit of fourteen billion years of unbroken evolution, now becoming conscious of itself…When the Bible speaks about God forming us from the dust of the Earth, it's actually true, we did not come into this world—we grew out of it, just like an apple grows from an apple tree. Do you get this? I mean, do you really get this? We are the universe becoming conscious of itself. We are stardust that has begun to contemplate the stars. We have arisen out of the dynamics of the Earth. 'Four billion years ago, our planet was molten rock, and now it sings opera' (quoting Brian Swimme)||”|
Dowd’s ministry companion is his wife Connie Barlow, a notable science writer/lecturer in her own right with 4 published works. Together they have traveled the USA since 2002 by van as nomads, offering an inspiring view of evolutionary theology and relating their Great Story to both secular and religious audiences.  . Dowd met Connie at a talk given by Brian Swimme in New york City in 2000. They found they both had a passion for spreading the Epic of Evolution. So they got married and left their jobs to become twenty-first-century itinerant evangelists, preaching and teaching at churches and science centers, at conferences and on university campuses across the country. Their message embraces both science and religion combined her scientific humanism with his evolutionary theism, her soft spoken manner with his zealous preaching style. They offer an answer to the debate over evolution and intelligent design. It draws in Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and Christians; theists and atheists; scientists and philosophers 
Book reviewer William Grassie on meeting them says the enthusiasm of Dowd and Barlow for their mission reminds him of the Japanese Buddhist term satori, a zesty born-again religious zeal that in time will develop into a more mature spirituality . Carter Phipps considers Dowd as "something of an anomaly" and he is not "apologetic about his spirituality on any level (...)Indeed, in both Connie and Michael's ministry, one can almost sense the emergence of a new form of spiritual expression, one that may seem to mimic the metaphysical certainty of a much earlier time, but that is now informed by an infinitely richer scientific and philosophical worldview” .They have both been called superb teachers and gifted troubadours .
Dowd considers himself to be a Pentecostal Evangelical or Evolutionary minister., and is rated one of the most dynamic speakers in America today.. He is a leading voice in the Evolutionary Spirituality movement.
Religiously he is eclectic. Raised a Roman Catholic, Dowd describes himself as having been 'born again' while serving in the United States Army in Germany in 1979, and for the next three years living within a fundamentalist culture that was strongly opposed to evolution. Thereafter he came under a more eclectic range of religious influences (including a friendship with a "Buddhist-Christian" former Trappist monk, Tobias Miekher) that opened him up to first intellectual, and then spiritual, acceptance of evolution.
Dowd was educated at an Assemblies of God college and a Baptist seminary, pastored a United Church of Christ and now calls himself a spirit-filled evolutionary Christian and Religious Naturalist .He cherishes the doctrines that other Pentecostal and evangelical Christians do but now interpret these concepts in a naturalistic way. Dowd prefers to think of the answers recorded in the Bible not as supernatural but as pre-natural. A scientific worldview lets him know and not merely believe in God. He believes in the authority of God's word. He maintains his belief in this ancient spiritual being while the gospel according to science allows him live in the contemporary world. Science is revelatory and facts are God's native tongue.. He is an advocate of what he terms evolution theology, the position that science and religious faith are not mutually exclusive (a form of Religious Naturalism or neo-Pantheism).
Dowd maintains a Christian paradigm although he accepts the story of evolution. He hears the facts of science as ‘God’s language’. To him, faith and spirituality and evolution and science are not a dichotomy.. He recognizes that many religious traditions reject this. Their denunciation is due to science and evolution being taught factually without subjective meanings or interpretation. He thinks that many of the problems of the world are due to a lack of integrity which can be solved by accepting the reality revealed by the cold facts.. Dowd is not a fully blown optimist about all this but an “ameliorist”, a hopeful religious naturalist. Although Dowd calls himself a Christian, or is at least is within the tradition, his ‘Christianity exists as a metaphor for pantheistic, evolutionary materialism’  Dowd beliefs that most traditional religious beliefs are subjective (private, individual) and can neither be verified or falsified. However community revelation (public) is more objective and measurable resulting in a communal understanding supported by factual knowledge This understanding goes further producing religious perceptive knowing rather than religious believing. Such public truths are “nested in the emergent nature of divine creativity and humanity’s co-creative role in furthering this process.” leading to a better comprehension and actualization of otherworldly religious ideals, clarity of God’s will and intensifies one’s traditional theology and morality.
Dowd uses the term ‘nested’ often in various ways. He sees the evolutionary process as a nested one “every nested level can bring new things into existence”, “everything did not come into being all at once but, rather, emerged over great expanses of time and in a nested fashion: subatomic particles within atoms, within molecules, within cells, within organisms, within ecosystems, and so on, like (Russian) nesting dolls and “God cannot possibly be less than a sacred, proper name for Ultimate Reality, the largest nested whole”. God is the outer most doll, reality is stories within stores and there are wider circles of care, compassion, and commitment.
For Dowd, evolution theology refers to those who integrate their theology with belief in evolution and their position on the science vs. religion controversy tends toward synthesis (consilience of religious beliefs). The term also includes those who do not see themselves on either side of the polarizing creation-evolution controversy. Theistic evolutionists, religious naturalists, humanists, pantheists, and signers of the Clergy Letter Project may differ in their views but they all manage to integrate evolution and theology into a similar outlook.
Concerning the concept of evolutionary epic he says -
|“||In my opinion, the single most significant insight gained from a soul-satisfying interpretation of the Epic of Evolution would be what I call “the nested emergent nature of divine creativity.” What I’m pointing to with this phrase is the now widely accepted understanding that everything did not come into being all at once but, rather, emerged over great expanses of time and in a nested fashion: subatomic particles within atoms, within molecules, within cells, within organisms, within ecosystems, and so on, like nesting dolls. (…) As I’m using the term, “God” cannot possible be less than a sacred, proper name for Ultimate Reality, the largest nested whole—that One Supreme Reality which transcends yet includes all other realities||”|
Dowd is a strong advocate for the Epic of Evolution (The Great Story). He sees science as a source of physical truths that empower technology resulting in human material affluence and the complexity of modern life. It is also an aide for a naturalistic spirituality. The 14 billion year revolutionary epic – with its eons of increasing complexity of life, consciousness and intelligence – is a story filled with meaning and moral texture for him. He enjoy telling this epic relating it in a passionate way to evoke awe, gratitude, and trust inspiring faith that empowers people to follow this path for happiness.
Dowd in his ministry is pluralistic reaching out to a broad audience of people. He particularly talks to those who reject the epic of evolution. He finds ways to effectively discuss evolution to devout Christians and other faiths along with agnostics, atheists and humanists. To the non-religious he promises that his vision of evolutionary spirituality will benefit them without their need to endorse a religion or believe in anything otherworldly. His eclectic evolutionary gospel is intended to make sense of the world and provide a moral and ethical foundation for a life of deep meaning in the midst of inevitable difficulties.
Dowd teaches that we will never see an end to the science and religion war in America until religious leaders do their part and preach evolution enthusiastically from the pulpit and teach evolution in inspiring ways in religious education classes. He highly recommends the Clergy Letter Project website as a resource for clergy to help them do that. He is also promoting what he calls a global integrity as a new concept of truthfulness that recognizes the immensity and grandeur of the reality we are becoming increasingly aware of.
Dowd preaches that the Epic of Evolution is a:
|“||shared sacred story that honors both objective truth and subjective meaning: For the first time in human history we have a creation story that not only addresses life’s biggest questions—Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? Why are we here? How are we to live?—but helps us answer those questions in ways that are both religiously inspiring and scientifically accurate. No longer are subjective meaning and objective truth isolated from one another in separate domains. Both are conveyed through the same story||”|
Dowd explains why he thanks God for the idea by Charles Darwin:
|“||For me, the ethics of evolution are not only consistent with the teachings of religion, they advance it. An evolutionary understanding urges me to grow in morality and to expand my circles of care and compassion—even to include those who see the world in very different ways. My worship of God now includes doing everything I can to ensure a just and thriving future for planet Earth, for our children’s children, and for as many species as possible. As an ordained Christian minister, I cannot imagine a higher calling for myself||”|
In the Dec. 2008 issue of Free Inquiry published by the Council for Secular Humanism, he states that his God is of a naturalized religion that is neither unnatural nor supernatural in its focus. He adds that science can be interpreted in a way that nourishes the soul and inspires us in a spiritual way the same as traditional religions do. “This is why I say science is a holy endeavor and a sacred enterprise. Every scientific discovery is an act of revelation” . He believes that religions will soon mythologize evolution and be grounded in the same evidential worldview as science.
Colleen Engel-Brown, former pastor at a First Unity Church believes Dowd has a very provoking message. Accepting evolution as plausible "disturbs those who take the Bible literally," . Even the Dowd vehicle provokes as it displays two fishes kissing with the labels - Jesus and Darwin . His message of evolutionary theology attaches a lot of attention as a subject that opens up the debate on the creation-evolution controversy. Both sides of this debate have been at it for a century and a half. Dowd attempts to serve as a pacifier by showing people that accepting the Epic of Evolution will bring them nearer to spiritual fulfillment ,.
Although his teachings and itinerate ministry have been applauded by religious, scientific and cultural leaders , some accuse him of “demoting the sacred”  or “eager to steal the hope of a happy afterlife from people”. “And much of Dowd's message draws not on the overall theory of evolution, which is a very strong model with overwhelming scientific consensus, but on the much more speculative field known as evolutionary psychology". To derive our behavioral 'integrity',as Dowd recommends, from such a controversial discipline (evolutionary psychology controversy) is to build our morals on a foundation of sand.” Dowd’s “idea echoes the beliefs of the Deists, who accepted "natural theology" but rejected the revealed theology that is central to the claims of Christianity’. “An impersonal and unknowable god seems like no god at all, at least from a teleological point of view." Dowd’s term “ ‘Religion 2.0’ seems to refer to a hybridization between pantheism and the philosophy of Spinoza, both descendants of Eastern philosophy”. (Note: there is no evidence that Spinoza who formalized pantheism relied on Eastern religions for his viewpoint but developed it from his Jewish background.)
Richard H. Bube said in 1992 that Dowd 
|“||sees the divine in everything that lives. But he has fastened on what he considers a ‘new cosmology’ arising from the findings of modern science that enables us to save the material world by declaring it to really be spiritual. Although Dowd's goal is certainly one with which Christians will agree, and his deep felt sense of concern for the environment and the earth is something with which Christians can readily identify, his method is particularly unfortunate since the claims for the ‘new cosmology’ are not rooted in reality. Modern science simply does not provide the insights or results that Dowd refers to.||”|
Being in the middle of an on-going debate means that Dowd has critics from both sides of this theistic/atheistic dispute. Non-religious critics say he is using ‘religious lingo’ to frame science or doing ‘quasi-religious science’ as ‘mystical mumbo jumbo. Dowd’s Humanistic/Christian/Universalist views are seen as baffling, a mishmash of spirituality, mythology, pop psychology with a bit of science tossed in, a 'confused pretend-theology. “His use of mythical and pantheistic language to create an evolutionary-based religion is one of the vast array of Creationist offshoots that bear no weight within either the religion or science based communities”. They concede however he has a 'great gig’ nor dispute the"smoothness of Mr. Dowd’s sales pitch". Barbara Stahura says Dowd’s offering on evolution is ‘unlike any other talk on the subject’. Michael Spencer agrees that Dowd is ‘something completely different’.
Those more in line with his thinking commended Dowd for ‘reaching across the aisle’. They see him as a ‘thoroughgoing naturalist’ who comprehends the power of symbolism and metaphor and uses it to his advantage. By utilizing traditional religious methods, Dowd invites “people to think about religion in new ways”. Stephen Uhl. a former Catholic priest-become humanist psychologist, writes “Dowd does a great job of expanding minds beyond sectarian belief systems. And he entertains while doing it. No matter what he calls God, Goddess, Allah, Kosmos, Nature, etc., he does a superb job of accepting believers and non-believers where they are now.” 
P. LaClair in 2008 said - Whether Michael believes in a god-being or not, his approach is more likely to succeed than any other. Insisting that people start free of magical or supernatural thinking won’t get them there. Instead, find a creative way to put the issue aside, and let them figure it out for themselves once the evolutionary principle has fully permeated their thinking. That’s why his ambiguities make sense.
Bill Kempton, a spiritual naturalist and supporter of einsteinian religion , considers Dowd one of his favorite philosophers.. Joan Roughgarden, Professor of Biological Sciences, Stanford University, author, Evolution and Christian Faith explains that Dowd’s book (TGFE) “will change the minds and even the hearts of people who have been alienated by rhetoric that pits science against faith ”. Few if any religious books quote Richard Dawkins in his own terms, or with approval. That this book does both hints at the breadth of audience it will intrigue — Rev. Dr. Jason John, Scots Church Adelaide .
Dowd's EarthSpirit (23 publications) was inspired by the writings of cultural historian Thomas Berry, cosmologist Brian Swimme, and deep ecologist Joanna Macy. His evangelistic preachings since 2002 to over a thousand audiences provided material for Thank God for Evolution (2008, influences – Thomas Berry, David Sloan Wilson and others). This book is noteworthy for its breadth and depth of endorsements which includes five Nobel Prize-winning scientists (Craig Mello, John Mather, Thomas C. Schelling, Frank Wilczek, and Lee Hartwell). It has also gotten favorable reviews,, and compliments from a host of religious leaders, scientists and cultural icons ,. Starting in the spring of 2008, Professor Hogue at the Meadville Lombard Theological School was using Dowd’s book in his course on theology and science. Penguin purchased the worldwide rights to it in mid 2008 .