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Thursday, January 17, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Ex-pastor preaches evolution

Michael Dowd speaks in tongues, and when he's not doing that, he's talking almost nonstop about why Christians should embrace evolution.

As a Pentecostal-background pastor who finds salvation in accepting that the universe is 14 billion years old, and who believes our behavior can be accounted for by not only the apes but also the lizards in our ancestry, he's a popular oddity on the lecture circuit.

This week and next, the author of Thank God for Evolution! will be giving several talks in the area.

"I come out of the Pentecostal, charismatic style," he said. "I'm all over the place. Nobody gets bored at these meetings."

Mr. Dowd grew up Catholic but later converted to spirit-filled Pentecostalism and began to speak in tongues. Early on, he also believed the biblical accounts of creation to be literally true and fervently rejected evolution.

But through the years, he encountered Christians who believed that evolution and faith could be reconciled.

In February 1988, he recalled, he attended a seminar and wept at coming to understand the scientific explanation of the universe as a "sacred epic." He said he knew then that his life's mission was to be an evangelist for evolution.

Mr. Dowd employs such terms as the "nested emergent nature of divine creativity" in arguing that evolution does not suggest a godless universe. He also says evolutionary theology offers hope for those who struggle with addiction and other problems.

"The way forward begins with this simple truth: Your greatest difficulties ... while your responsibility, are ultimately not your fault," he writes. "Such challenges spring from inherited proclivities that served the survival and reproductive interests of our human and pre-human ancestors."

Later in the book, he's more specific: "Inclinations toward excess with regard to food, sex, and feel-good substances are deeply rooted in our reptilian brain."

In his book he seeks to demonstrate how evolutionary theology can accommodate such Christian beliefs as original sin, resurrection and the devil.

"We talk about the warfare between religion and science, but what he's doing is basically showing that there is no conflict between them," said John Swanson, who has used DVDs of Mr. Dowd's talks in teaching a class at Community Unitarian Universalist Church in Plano.

But Barry Creamer, who teaches at the theologically conservative Criswell College in Dallas, sees Mr. Dowd as engaging in a lot of fancy footwork.

"He's willing to say almost anything that gets the audience to believe he's in agreement with them, but ultimately science is his authority for truth," Dr. Creamer said.