Ooze Book Reviews: Thank God for Evolution! part 1

So, I was planning on simply doing one large review once I finished Thank God for Evolution! by Michael Dowd. However, the author was kind enough to divide the book into parts, and there is enough information here to warrant breaking my review down into its constituent parts. Beyond that I need the chance to think through some things, blogging will help me to do that. First, since this is a book that wants to talk about how science and religion can get along, I think some background is needed regarding my own biases. I grew up in a borderline fundamentalist home — though the experience was mostly positive. My mother and father taught me a literal interpretation of the Scriptures, which I began to question during my time at Davis College. I no longer hold to an absolutely literal interpretation of the Scriptures. I have also come to the conclusion that evolution has a ton of factual evidence supporting it. I’ve been attempting to convince my parents that one could believe in the Bible, the authority of the Scriptures, and that Jesus rose from the dead (really…like…with a body), and at the same time acknowledge the evidence for evolution.

So, there’s my background. Now, on to part one of Michael Dowd’s book, the subtitle of which is “How the marriage of Science and Religion with transform your life and our world.” Which is as good a place to start as any. Am I the only one who think that subtitle could be taken off of one of Joel Osteen’s books? Sometimes I look at the book, and instead of seeing the nifty fish fossil/ichthus mashup I see Joel’s smiling mug. It’s crazy. Beyond that, I am against religion being married to anything. It only creates problems. When religion is married to government – problems. When religion is married to culture – problems. When religion is married to the self – problems. When religion is married to philosophy – problems. All these various things can inform one’s take on religion, and religion should interact with all of them, but marriage is out of the question. Which of course sets the stage of Dowd’s book. I was expecting a book that outlined how science and religion could inform one another. So far I’ve only seen a marriage of the two that is best represented by the stereotypical wife beating husband, with science playing the role of the husband. Of course, religion is still there, so I doubt Dawkins would be pleased either.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take a step back. Part I is titled “The Holy Trajectory of Evolution,” and contains the first three chapters of the book. In this Dowd basically attempts to explain his view of Evolution as religion. It is, put simply, the very thing conservative Christians have been warning about for years. They’ve said that evolution is a religion, and that it will try to eat Christianity. Dowd, far from putting their fears to rest, has only written three chapters that will say to them, “We were right!” It will be over no help to me in helping my parents to realize that one could still say the Scriptures are authoritative and inspired, but accept evolution.

However, all of this isn’t to say Dowd’s first three chapters aren’t worth reading. I disagree with almost everything he says, but it is interesting. First of all, he calls evolution our modern creation myth! How often have I said to people that evolution was the modern creation myth! I feel vindicated. However, he sees evolution than as a replacement for the Genesis account. Except, not really. It’s more like he sees evolution as a sort of Urstory. A sort of basic story that contains the basic truths to which various religions ascribe. The idea may not be that different from the idea that all ancient creation myths share a certain amount of truth. The different is, I think, that Dowd has made evolution the truth, as opposed to any one religions take on it. I disagree with this to some extent, and specifically the idea that evolution could ever be a replacement for Genesis. In the same way that the Genesis account interacted with ANE creation myths, I think that if it were to be written today, it would interact with — but differ from in key ways — the modern day evolution myth. That is to say, the underlying theology, I believe, would remain constant. So, whereas Dowd doesn’t want to see humans as unique (aside from being a way for the universe to perceive itself, but more on that in a moment), I think Genesis, from a theological perspective, teaches that humans are, in fact, highly unique among the variety of species out there. The way Genesis does this is by the whole creation of man account. God breath life into mankind. I think the underlying truth to that is accurate, if the literal description is not.

The second chapter basically lays out the idea that evolution is not a meaningless cycle of chance. Rather, Dowd argues, it is a journey of the universe. The universe is, in a way, creating itself. Strife and cooperation both of their place. There is quite a bit of fascinating reasoning going on in this chapter. I think that ultimately it proves untenable. In the end where he says “universe” I would say Adonai and be mostly satisfied with what he’s getting at, I think. I haven’t tried going through and reading it that way, so I don’t know. But, it sounds to me like his version of intelligent design is that the Universe (notice the capital letter!) is an intelligence (The Intelligence?), and as such is designing itself. I haven’t finished the book, so I could be wrong at this point. However, that is the impression I have come a way with.

The third chapter, and the final one in Part I, is an adaptation of a sermon Dowd gave once. It is titled, “Evolution and the Revival of the Human Spirit,” I can hear the conservative screaming already. To some extent they are justified, as all their fears come true. I haven’t gotten to the chapter where Dowd explains what he means by “God” yet, so I may be speaking out of turn. But, based on this sermon adaptation I think that Dowd views the universe, reality, existence, as God. As such we all live within it. Perhaps the most fascinating part of Dowd’s ideas in this chapter is the final subsection, on how “trusting the Universe means welcoming challenges” (pg 53). In here he basically makes the arguement, albeit briefly, that “sin” is all part of the universe, and need to be trusted like everything else. Conservative Christians will point to this as more evidence of the moral laxity of evolution as a religion. I feel no need to do so, however. What I would like to see discussed in more detail is the problem of evil in the world. So far Dowd has simply seemed to say that it is a requirement for progress, and although we should attempt to avoid it we need to realize that when it happens its all for the betterment of the Universe (with a capital U!). I’m hoping he goes into more depth on this idea later, because I’m sure that he would agree that what my current understanding of his thoughts on the matter are inadequate to the complexity of the situation.

So, having completed part one, I can say that I’m looking forward to reading part two. I will post a corresponding review and link to it at the bottom of this post. There are, I believe, five sections to the book. My present opinion is that this is not a book that adequately answers questions that Christians who see the evidence for evolution, but also want to continue affirming the inspiration of Scripture, may have. At the same time, I think it is an extremely interesting read. Since I’ve only read part one, I reserve the right to completely alter my opinions after I finished part two, etc.

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One thought on “Ooze Book Reviews: Thank God for Evolution! part 1

  1. From what I’ve read of his book, I think down veers off into process theology and panentheism. Have you read “Perspectives on an Evolving Creation?” or Francis Collins’ “Language of God?”

    This is an issue that is interesting to me. For various sources, I’ve learned that there are at least four books coming out this year discussing the evidences for biological evolution and the integration of those evidences with evangelical Christian faith.

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