Saturday, June 14, 2008


A Fish Out of Water

Michael Dowd is hitting the big time. For months now I've been seeing news reports on the local appearances of the faintly quixotic traveling minister and his message of "Thank God for Evolution." Literally an itinerant preacher for the last six years, Dowd and his wife Connie Barlow, who has authored several popular science books, have lived entirely "on the road" while spreading the message to believers that "understanding and accepting evolution will bring them closer to spiritual fulfillment."

Now Dowd is the subject of a piece in the New York Times Sunday Magazine and his book Thank God for Evolution, which was originally published by Council Oak Books last November, has been acquired by Viking Penguin for $750,000.

He has also been attracting notice from longtime warriors on the creation/evolution front as well. Ken Ham, founder of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, finds no religious value in Dowd's positions:

"What's his message?" Ham asks. "Who is God? Is the universe God? What is our purpose and meaning? What is good and evil? Who determines our future? The Bible gives us very specific answers." Ham says that what Dowd is telling his audience is "no different from what an evolutionary atheist would preach" with some of Dowd's merely subjective feelings "mixed in."

Daniel Dennett, one of the leading lights of the "New Atheists," is somewhat ambivalent when he:

... maintains that Dowd is right that self-knowledge gleaned from evolution "can and should temper our judgments about our morality and immorality." But even though he applauds Dowd's "effort at diplomatic teaching" of evolution, he worries that evangelical followers may be less likely to pursue Darwinism further than to develop a "healthy distrust" for such obvious "sugar-coating."

Steven Case of the University of Kansas

... says that Dowd's message has the potential to confuse listeners about where scientific explanation ends and religious interpretation begins. That could eventually hurt science, Case says, making society less willing to ask theologically discomfiting yet scientifically legitimate questions like when the human race might become extinct.

Still, it's hard not to have a sneaking admiration for people who, whether they are ultimately right or wrong about the relationship of science and religion, want to reconcile them so much that they give up the easy comfort of a parish to travel the country in a van displaying an image of two fish kissing each other -- one labeled Jesus, the other Darwin.

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