“Although none of this world history is mentioned in the Bible, no historian alive today would deny the following: Before Moses was born and before the story of Adam and Eve was written, southeast Asians were boating to nearby Pacific islands; Indo-European charioteers were invading India; China, under the Shang Dynasty, entered the Bronze Age; indigenous people occupied most of the Western Hemisphere; and the Egyptian empires age of pyramid building had come and gone.” So writes author and reverend Michael Dowd in the introduction to his book, Thank God for Evolution: How the marriage of science and religion will transform your life and our world (Viking, 2007).
Like his title suggests, Dowd is an evangelist—born Catholic, born again and, initially during his seminary training, very much opposed to evolution theory—who married a scientist. His wife, science writer and “evolution enthusiast” Connie Barlow, was, at their meeting, “a self-decribed atheist.” 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.
Michael Dowd makes several local appearance.
• On Sunday, Nov. 9, he is the guest speaker during the 9:15 and 11:15 a.m. Sunday services at the Unitarian Universalist Church (1 Edwin Place, Asheville), and gives a 7 p.m. presentation at the same location. Free. Info: 254-6001.
• He speaks at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Swannanoa Valley (500 Montreat Rd, Black Mountain) on Monday, Dec. 8, at 7 p.m. Info: 669-8050.
UU Congregation of the Swannanoa Valley
• Dowd visits Jubilee! (46 Wall St., Asheville) on Tuesday, Dec. 9, 7 p.m. Info: 252-5335.
• He travels to the Waldensian Presbyterian Church (109 Main Street E., Valdese) on Thursday, Nov. 20, 6 p.m. Info: 874-2531.
Other book events this week:
• Publisher Bright Mountain Books recently re-released the 1981 architectural history Cabins & Castles. The coffee table-sized read offers a close look at the buildings of Asheville and Buncombe County. Editor Douglas Swain and essayist John Ager will be at Accent on Books on Friday, Nov. 7 to sign both old and new copies. The event begins at 6 p.m.
• Swain and Ager offer a free program at Pack Memorial Library on Saturday, Nov. 8. The 11 a.m. event is followed by a book sale and signing (with refreshments) with proceeds benefiting the Preservation Society of Asheville & Buncombe County.
—Alli Marshall, A&E reporter