Realizing Religion, Sanctifying Science: Acclaimed author Michael Dowd Speaks in Asheville on tour to inspire a common creation myth
Micheal Dowd used to spend his time passing out fundamentalist Christian pamphlets on the street and arguing with anyone who thought the world was more than a few thousand years old. He was direly threatened by the idea of evolution. But for the past nine years, he and his wife Connie Barlow have lived on the road, driving a big white van with an illustration on the side depicting a cloud of hearts enveloping the Darwin fish and the Jesus fish kissing.
They speak to thousands of people each year, preaching a sacred view on the history of the universe in an effort to transform the way we see ourselves, each other, and humanity’s place in the world.
Dowd has given talks at TEDx, the United Nations Values Caucus, and wrote the 2011 best seller Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion with Transform Your Life and Our World, which has been endorsed by six Nobel Prize laureates.
They’re on a mission, and that is to synthesize the creation stories of religion and science, to produce an “epic of evolution” that inspires our species into a new evolutionary impulse to govern ourselves as a species to serve the common good. “Spirituality is all of the practices and exercises that lead us to be in right relationship with reality. In fact, when I use the word ‘God,’ I am meaning a mythic name, a mythic personification, of reality.”
So creating a right relationship with God is not to deny new knowledge that is discovered over time, but to embrace these discoveries as an enrichment of that relationship. The ancients had no way of knowing about what was happening beyond the Milky Way, they had no way of explaining impulses to cheat, dominate, or copulate, which stood in opposition to the knowledge of what was best for a healthy community and life, Dowd argues.
He also emphasizes that the evolutionary psychological perspective is able to explain these impulses based on the different parts of our brain that developed at different segments of time over the course of our history, each helping us to survive in that particular period. “We live with mismatched instincts and supernormal allurements,” says Dowd.
That is, our instincts don’t match the world we live in today — they match the world of our ancestors. If our ancestors hadn’t craved fats, sugars and salts, and sex, then they wouldn’t have weathered the winters and droughts, and we wouldn’t be here today. So let’s appreciate these instincts! Only now, we’re surrounded with fast food, drugs and porn, and we’re losing our minds and slowly killing ourselves. Mismatched instincts. Supernormal allurements.
Now, just to be clear, Dowd isn’t saying that we have a free pass to indulge our addictions, act out of integrity, and claim either “The Devil made me do it” (for the religious) or “my lizard brain made me do it” (for the scientific).
“It may not be your fault,” he says, “but it is absolutely your responsibility. Nobody gets off the hook knowing about these instincts. From my experience, knowing makes it much easier to stay in integrity.”
Having been there himself, Dowd understands why many of the world’s religious community distrust the concept of evolution: They fear that it saps what is sacred out of life — and maybe they are right. Dowd and Barlow don’t just preach to the religious to enrich their perspective with the Gospel according to Science, but also highlight the eternal wisdom found in religious texts to the atheistic and science-minded that they may enrich their own perspectives by incorporating a sacred element.
Perhaps the reason that so many of the faith community deny evolution is because it is so myopically presented, without any inspiring or purposeful element that clues us into what we are evolving toward, or why we should care. The scientific community has traditionally neglected to nurture the epic of evolution in a way that nourishes us in a way that our creation myths and hero legends do; in a way that inspires us and feeds the imagination.
Dowd counters the more cynical and mainstream interpretation of evolution: “One thing evolutionary psychology has taught us is that morality emerges,” says Dowd. “We don’t need a cosmic stick and a cosmic carrot to motivate us to be good. Empathy and compassion are instinctual to our species because we are social animals. … Anyone who says that evolution just says we are selfish doesn’t understand this essential aspect of evolution.”
Since the Enlightenment, there has been a vast divide and distrust between science and religion, each vying for dominance and denying the other, with religion pressuring us to turn away from those things we secretly want, because they are just the devil; and science — the rebellious teenager — telling us that we cannot really trust ourselves as we are greedy and selfish creatures without a purpose.
“This isn’t just scientific knowledge, this religious knowledge too,” Dowd emphasizes. “We are seeing religion go from 1.0 to 2.0,” and until we see the history of the universe as scripture, then we will continue to act out of integrity and quite possibly ruin the earth.
In his most recent talks, Dowd is focusing specifically on “the negative effects of idolatry of the written word,” as he phrases it. He emphasizes that there is an archaic and destructive perspective that we need to outgrow, which places the divine outside of nature looking in, when in fact the divine is in and of nature itself.
“Ecology is the new theology,” he asserts, and “Those who fail to understand that evidence is modern day scripture, and the world we live in is an honorable world, betray God and humanity in the most egregious of ways.”
Dowd sees that both unrealistic religion and unsanctified science are leading the species and planet to a grim future. What we need is to synthesize the two camps so that we aren’t ashamed of instincts, in fact, we wreek more destruction attempting to cover up what lies beneath:
“If we don’t respect and honor our inherited drives, then we are bound to be enslaved by them,” he says.
“From crumbling economies to collapsing ecosystems, humanity is experiencing an unprecedented global integrity crisis. And by integrity, I don’t just mean honesty, I mean being aligned with reality.”
That reality has to do with accepting the knowledge that science offers us and presenting it in a way that inspires the multitude of people from different nations and cultures to really want and successfully manifest an ecological way forward.
To get in on this conversation and take part in writing our new shared creation story, check out one of the couple’s talks next week. On Tuesday, April 23, at 7 p.m., catch Evidential Inspiration and Hope at Jubilee! (46 Wall St, Downtown Asheville, 252-5335). On Wednesday, April 24, at 7:30 p.m., catch Soulful Science: Ecology is the New Theology at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville (1 Edwin Place, Asheville, 254-6001).