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The New Evangelism: Michael Dowd's Evolutionary Christianity

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BACKGROUND

Who is Michael Dowd? He calls himself an evangelist. Not surprisingly, he can be found in churches preaching. But Dowd's gospel is not one where sin is rebellion against God, but rejection of Darwin.

Likewise, salvation doesn't come from Jesus on a Roman crucifix, but merely embracing the emergent Universe. Thus, we should Thank God for Evolution, the title of his 2008 magnus opus. Subtitled "The Marriage of Science and Religion," the popular book-endorsed by no less than six Nobel Laureates-unfolds a central theme that standard Darwinism is scientifically accurate and religiously inspiring.

With faith-evolution controversies running unabated, Dowd's Darwin-for-all-occasions may seem a hard sell. Yet Dowd's effusive friendliness and seeming openness are swaying many his direction. His sales technique even wins over atheists and Christian evangelicals.

Still, Dowd is a mover-and- shaker who doesn't move everybody to awe. The unwilling might include those who question Neo-Darwinism in whole or part, those who are uncomfortable with religion, and conservative adherents of traditional religions.

Since 2002, the self-described "evolutionary evangelist" has been on the road across America in a marathon of speaking engagements held mainly at schools and church groups. In addition, Dowd has four main websites, three books, and has spoken at the United Nations for their Values Caucus, a group dedicated to provide an "open forum . . . in order to allow a new culture to emerge."

But Dowd's background emerges from the old culture. Growing up Roman Catholic, he says he became a born-again Christian while serving in the army in 1979. He accepted that evolution was mostly harmful bunk until a few professors at Evangel University (conservative, Pentecostal) convinced him otherwise. From there, he went to seminary and then signed on with the liberal United Church of Christ for nine years.

While still with the UCC, he fully embraced evolutionary mysticism in 1988. Within an hour of starting a course on "The New Catholic Mysticism," Dowd says he was weeping and seeing the "scientific story of the Universe" as a "sacred epic." "I knew I would spend the rest of my life sharing this perspective as great news," he adds. In fact, Dowd's worldview moved from Christian monotheism to religious naturalism.

His commitment to naturalism while retaining the language of Christianity can be glimpsed in his statements from a recent article in Skeptic magazine:

"God is not a person; God is a personification of one or more deeply significant dimensions of reality."

"'Getting right with God' means coming into right relationship with our planet and all its gloriously diverse species and cultures."

"I foresee a time when religious leaders get their guidance and inspiration from humanity's common creation story (Darwinian evolution) and teach and preach the discoveries of science as God's word. When that day comes, our faith traditions will thrive and many of us will look back and exclaim, 'Thank God for the New Atheists'."

Despite his co-option of theological language, there is little left of traditional monotheism, let alone traditional Christianity, in Dowd's worldview. Indeed, the "supernatural" itself doesn't exist according Dowd; it's merely an invention of the Western mind. "Evidence suggests that the only place that the so-called supernatural realm has ever existed has been in the minds and hearts (and speech) of human beings--and only quite recently." Accordingy, the God of the Bible is no more real than the Greek gods Poseidon or Helios, and the Bible itself is a jumble of "old mythic stories" that provides no real guidance for the challenges we face today: "Ours is a time of space telescopes, electron microscopes, supercomputers, and the worldwide web. It is also a time of smart bombs, collapsing economies, and exploding oil platforms. This is not a time for parsing the lessons given to a few goatherds, tentmakers, and camel drivers." (emphasis added)

EVANGELICAL ASSISTANCE

Given Dowd's turn to religious naturalism, one may find surprising the number of Christian evangelicals interviewed for his recent online series at EvolutionaryChristianity.com, "The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity." Some of the evangelicals' tacit approval of Dowd's agenda is curious.

For instance, among the nearly 40 interviewees was Karl Giberson, professor of physics at Eastern Nazarene College, who bemoans, "Evangelical theology has not made peace with evolution." That is, some evangelicals have not accepted Darwin's take on evolution as is and incorporated it into their theology.

Giberson serves as vice president with the pro-Darwin BioLogos Forum, a group he helped found with the most well-known evangelical advocate of Darwinian evolution, Francis Collins. The BioLogos website states, "We believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. We also believe that evolution, properly understood, best describes God's work of creation." But Dowd thinks God is only a metaphor for the universe and the Bible can't be used to determine right and wrong. Science is the new Bible. This would seem to put BioLogos and Dowd at odds with one another.

Indeed, Giberson estimates that he disagrees with 60% of Dowd's thinking. Yet Giberson objects to nothing Dowd asserts in their hour-long interview for the Advent series. Why is that?
Giberson says, "It's fine to be working arm in arm with Michael Dowd, comfortably setting aside our differences and promoting the harmony of Christian faith and evolution."

And Giberson also disagrees with Dowd about the New Atheists, taking them to task in his book Saving Darwin. What gives? Aren't the Dawkins and Harris crowd the same people Dowd honors as God's prophets? But Giberson says building a coalition to promote Darwinian evolution is more important than the gulf between their religious beliefs.

WINNING OVER THE RELUCTANT

Even apart from Dowd's celebration of the New Atheists as prophets, he shows an ability to win over secularists. Atheist blogger Phil Ferguson originally wrote with ambivalence about Dowd's Advent series. For Ferguson, Dowd and his cohorts' made-up religion stuff is okay as long as they "don't fight known science." At the same time, "Maybe they are just abusing science to promote religion."

After Dowd responds online by saying that he's a "religious naturalist" in which God doesn't mean what it used to mean, Ferguson is on board. He applauds Dowd's "intentions and efforts"-and his pragmatism in "reaching people that would run screaming from this blog, so keep up the good work."

EVANGELICAL OPPOSITION

Not everyone has hopped onto Dowd's bandwagon. New Testament scholar Peter Jones has described Dowd's worldview ("One-ism") in his book One or Two: Seeing a World of Difference (2010). Jones finds Dowd's use of Christian and Biblical language deceptive; he rejects establishing common cause with someone who engages in "worship of creation."

Stanford scientist Richard Bube, whom both Dowd and Giberson greatly respect, was extremely critical of Dowd's first book written in 1990, The Meaning of Life in the 1990s. Bube was once president of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), an organization of devout Christians in science-and a pioneer in efforts to put science and faith in harmony.

Dowd says Bube's writing were his "lifeline" during college. Yet Bube calls false Dowd's assertions that "every atom of the universe has an inner intelligence which is non-material and ultimately unknowable" and "the earth is alive and we are the Earth's reflexive consciousness." Bube also criticized Dowd for taking liberties with the Bible and Christian theology, concluding that "we must not let the idea take root in the Christian community that these aberrations on Christianity are the prescribed way to go."

A COMMITMENT TO DIVERSITY?

Dowd frames all he does in terms of openness and diversity. After all, he says, "Just like a forest or a pond eco-system, variety and different diversity of species makes for the health of an eco-system. I think that's true in consciousness and culture as well."

But the range of diversity he is willing to embrace seems to have sharp limits. For one thing, by endorsing and heaping fulsome praise on the New Atheists and their bashing of what he calls "superstitious, other-wordly religiosity," Dowd certainly appears to encourage the exclusion of traditional monotheists from being part of any discussion about Darwinian evolution. After all, one of the driving goals of the New Atheists is to so debunk traditional religion that its adherents will be driven out of the public square entirely.

In his own series at EvolutionaryChristianity.com, meanwhile, don't expect to find any supporters of intelligent design in biology as part of the conversation.


When asked why he didn't include someone from the intelligent design movement among the nearly 40 interviews in his "Advent of Evolutionary Christianity" series, he replied, "If I were to do it again, I would probably include one, two, or three people from that perspective . . . I certainly anticipate interviewing and occasionally featuring some of the work of a more ID perspective."

However, Dowd added pre-conditions for interviewing an ID proponent. Candidates would have to subscribe to four concepts Dowd says were held by the Advent interviewees: "We're all committed Christians, we all value evidence as divine communication and divine guidance, we all have deep-time eyes, and we all have a global heart."

But how can this group of interviewees truly have these four points of common ground when they obviously don't agree on what being a Christian means? Or what "divine communication" signifies? What serves as evidence? Are "deep-time eyes" a reference to an old earth chronology or more about "one's communion with the powers of the earth" as Dowd's website states? Does "global heart" mean any animal is just as good as a human because people are only a part of "the larger body of life"?

While Dowd's stated commitment to many voices matches his assertion that his is just one voice among many -- his lone voice dominates the Advent series. By interjecting stories and commentary during the interviews, Dowd exerts far more influence than that of any other individual.

DOWD'S WORLDVIEW AND ITS IMPACT

What is true of Dowd is that he has held a worldview of religious atheism for over 20 years. The difference is that today there are millions of people who have switched to Dowd's faith in the Universe. In fact, analysts have estimated that there are 50 million Americans and 100 million Europeans who fit what used to be called New Agers, but now want to be known as Cultural Creatives, Progressives, Brights, or Integral Spiritualists.

So what wins out in the end for Dowd, the advocate of blending Christianity and evolution? Party-line evolution-with mysticism in tow-or is it vice versa?

And what true blue evolutionist might not welcome Dowd? Dowd himself finds even the atheist evolutionary biologist PZ Myers a kindred spirit: "There is very little about which PZ and I disagree, other than perhaps the fact that I'm working to evolve religion and he's working to free society of it."

In the process, well-reasoned scientific objections to macroevolution and alternatives to Neo-Darwinism like intelligent design are cast aside. The other casualty is well-considered traditional religion - thrown under the bus for the latest mystical fad that is nothing more than recycled paganism.


34 Comments

I want to compliment Rsvohi for following up his/her earlier post with some of the data Rsvoshi believes justifies the claim that Totheroh’s article is “intellectually dishonest.” Rsvoshi’s new post is a positive contribution to the conversation. Rather than simply assert things, it provides some evidence that can then be discussed.

However, I don’t think that anything Rsvohi cites proves his or her charge.

No one disputes that Mr. Dowd is trying to reach out to religious believers, or that he is adept at co-opting traditional Christian language. But it is also pretty clear that what Mr. Dowd is actually preaching has very little to do with the core teachings of Christianity as understood by Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox believers for the past couple of thousand years. That is the point of Totheroh’s article, and nothing Rsvohi points to refutes the evidence Totheroh cites.

Anyone who doubts Dowd’s real views should read his article “Thank God for the New Atheists” in the current issue of Skeptic magazine. There Dowd makes abundantly clear that the supernatural itself is an invention of the Western mind, and so is the idea of God. That’s what Dowd means when he asserts that “God is not a person,” and that is what he means when he goes on to argue that the God of the Bible is simply a personifcation of nature in the same way that the Greeks personified the oceans with Poisedon and the sun with Sol (see “Thank God for the New Atheists,” pp. 29-30). In the same article, Dowd dismisses the Bible as a book of outdated myths told to “a few goatherds, tentmakers, and camel drivers.” (p. 30)

As for the Christian idea of salvation, Rsvoshi objects to Totheroh’s statements that “Dowd's gospel is not one where sin is rebellion against God, but rejection of Darwin” and “Likewise, salvation doesn't come from Jesus on a Roman crucifix, but merely embracing the emergent Universe.”

But it is Dowd himself, not Totheroh, who asserts: “Time and time again, I have watched young people experience salvation by learning about their evolutionary heritage—that they are the way they are because those drives served their ancient ancestors. Halleluiah!” (Thank God for Evolution, p. 187).

There is nothing here about Jesus being one’s Savior let alone dying for the sins of the world. Indeed, in his recent article for Skeptic magazine, Dowd cites approvingly an author who ridicules the standard Christian belief that Jesus died to redeem humanity from sin and then rose again from the dead. The best Rsvoshi can offer in response is that according to Dowd Jesus was a nice man who taught good ethics, and we should all follow his example and live with “deep integrity.” But that’s not Christianity as it has been understood by the vast majority of Christians for the past two millennia. I fail to see anything “dishonest” about Totheroh pointing this out.

Indeed, if there is anything intellectually suspect going on, it’s Dowd’s effort to dress up scientific materialism in the language of religion. Dowd clearly believes that God is a myth and the supernatural is bunk. Why not simply say this rather than trying to redeploy the language of religion? It’s as if Dowd himself recognizes that a more direct exposition of his ideas wouldn’t be very persuasive to most people. So he hijacks existing terminology in the hope that he can make his position more persuasive. But this is persuasion by confusion.

It’s a free country, and Dowd can call himself anything he likes. If he wants to insist that he is a mushroom, he can do so. But the rest of us don’t have to accede to his idiosyncratic usage of terms. Genuine communication relies on people using terms in a common way. Communication becomes impossible when one side tries to persuade people by employing their own private definitions of key terms. Dowd can talk about “God” and “Christianity” as much as he likes, but there is nothing “intellectually dishonest” about pointing out that Dowd redefines these terms to mean something completely different from how most people use the terms.

To my friend Rsvohi:

First let me sincerely praise you Rsvohi for trying to meet the challenge to provide quotes and specific examples to back up your criticisms of Gailon Totheroh's article. I respect the fact that you tried and give you praise for trying.

Unfortunately, your attempt to meet the challenge failed quite badly, on both a logical and rhetorical level.

First, you could not help but repeat your previous uncivil personal attacks against Gailon Totheroh's article, again calling him "intellectually dishonest" for writing it. (One of the peculiar behaviors I've witnessed among new atheists is that they are often unable to refrain from personal attacks, while simultaneously unable to admit they are making them. Do you identify with that problem?)

Second, you did not establish that the author misrepresented Michael Dowd. In fact, your examples of what is supposedly wrong with Gailon Totheroh's article completely validated that he was correct.

I've also read Thank God for Evolution and I think that Gailon Totheroh is completely accurate to state:

A: “But Dowd's gospel is not one where sin is rebellion against God, but rejection of Darwin.”

B: “Likewise, salvation doesn't come from Jesus on a Roman crucifix, but merely embracing the emergent Universe.”

You accuse those quotes from Gailon Totheroh as being "intellectually dishonest"--but in fact the quotes from Michael Dowd that I already provided in my earlier comments prove that Mr. Totheroh is completely validated to make those claims.

I believe in providing specific examples and quotes to back my arguments from the outset. So here you go. Dowd writes:

"I cannot agree that 'Jesus as God’s way, truth, and life' means that only Christians who believe certain things about Jesus or the Bible get to go to … heaven when they die. … For me today … '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 … and all may benefit from its guidance without necessarily converting to Christianity…" (Michael Dowd, "Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion will Transform Your Life and Our World," p. 316 (Council Oak Books, 2007).)

“Time and time again, I have watched young people experience salvation by learning about their evolutionary heritage—that they are the way they are because those drives served their ancient ancestors. Halleluiah! Our instincts are to be worked with, appeased in moderation, and re-channeled integrously—not condemned and repressed.” (Michael Dowd, "Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion will Transform Your Life and Our World," p. 187 (Council Oak Books, 2007).)

Together those two quotes pretty much directly validate both of both quote A and B from Gailon Totheroh's article. These quotes make it clear that Dowd (a) rejects the view that salvation comes from belief in Christ, but (b) believes that salvation comes from embracing evolution! As he says, "young people experience salvation by learning about their evolutionary heritage".

Could it be any clearer? Those quotes from Dowd's book make it very clear that:

A: “But Dowd's gospel is not one where sin is rebellion against God, but rejection of Darwin.”

B: “Likewise, salvation doesn't come from Jesus on a Roman crucifix, but merely embracing the emergent Universe.”

Here's another fun quote from Dowd where he suggests that traditional belief in God ought to be mocked, and that we should instead embrace God as "reality in all its sublime fullness" (e.g. 'the emergent universe' mentioned by Mr. Totheroh):

"‘God’ is a mythic name for reality in all its sublime fullness. Any so-called God that is imagined as less than this is unworthy of our devotion and deserves to be mocked, as the New Atheists so readily do.” (Michael Dowd, “Thank God for the New Atheists: A Sermon by Michael Dowd,” Skeptic Magazine, Vol. 16 (2):28-30 (2011).)

And Dowd even calls himself a "naturalist":

“Few things are more important than for religious peoples of all backgrounds and orientations to heed what the New Atheists are saying. … I am grateful because of how they are prodding religion and humanity to mature and because of how they are encouraging religious people (like me!) to come out of the closet as naturalists.” (Michael Dowd, “Thank God for the New Atheists: A Sermon by Michael Dowd,” Skeptic Magazine, Vol. 16 (2):28-30 (2011).)

For the record, when someone is writing in Skeptic Magazine, and they say they're a "naturalist," they mean someone who believes "that only natural laws and forces (as opposed to supernatural ones) operate in the world and that nothing exists beyond the natural world."

No wonder Mr. Dowd says "'Thank God for the New Atheists'" and is being praised by atheists like Carnap. Mr. Dowd can deny that he's an atheist, but the "God" he believes in is unlike any God of any theistic religion ever conceived. It's more like a pantheistic or pagan deity, where nature or the universe or "reality in all its sublime fullness" become the object of worship.

You close by suggesting that the Mr. Totheroh and commenters have made "subtle personal attack[s] that the dogmatic establishment has always made against those why ask the wrong questions and encourage a deeper level of inquiry".

Well, I said it before and I'll say it again: Mr. Dowd is welcome to believe whatever he wishes.

But if his beliefs deviate overwhelmingly, dramatically, decisively, and absolutely from the teachings of Christianity, no one can fault people for pointing that out.

Nobody is stopping Michael Dowd from believing what he wants and nobody is trying to stop his inquiry. Hardly. We're just trying to clarify the confusion promoted by Michael Dowd, and his fans, whenever they misrepresent his views as anything remotely close to "Christian."

"God is not a person; God is a personification of one or more deeply significant dimensions of reality."

"'Getting right with God' means coming into right relationship with our planet and all its gloriously diverse species and cultures."

Paul deals with this in Romans 1

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

[...]They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

“Let's have a little go at reviewing the civility of Mr. Dowd and his followers:”

First of all, I am not, and have never been “one of Mr. Dowd’s followers”. I’ve never met him or attended any of his events. As I stated in my earlier comments, I respect his work because he is asking the same questions many have been asking for a long time, and, he is providing answers that satisfy the desire for increased depth that some are searching for. There are many points in “Thank God for Evolution” that I could take issue with, however, I think the book has the potential to make people think about their beliefs in a different and positive way if they read it, and I respect it on that basis.

Secondly, regarding my civility or lack there of, I assure you there was no “attack” issued, and the assertion that my response was an “ad hominem” argument is, itself, baseless. My comments are predicated on my conviction that Mr. Totheroh's article takes Mr. Dowd’s major points out of context and is therefore intellectually dishonest, thus, the comments cannot be dismissed as “ad hominem” in nature. I will state that anyone seeking a conventional rendering of Christian dogma will not find it in Mr. Dowd’s work. They may find someone who has spent a lot of time seeking to understand Christ’s teachings in modern, scientifically relevant ways.

I’m going to briefly cover a few of the issues I see in Mr. Totheroh’s article, and it’s lack of appropriate contextualization regarding Dowd’s work (as I am familiar with it from “Thank God for Evolution”).

When examining Mr. Totheroh’s article, the most profound example of ignorance in regard to Mr. Dowd’s work is the centrality of Jesus Christ and His teachings as revealed in the New Testament! Dowd spends a great deal of time (two or three chapters) unfolding a scientific/biological explanation for what has historically been called “sin” and the biological necessity of Christ’s teachings (which, as he points out, have parallels in other traditions as well) in regards to development (spiritually, mentally and emotionally) and personal salvation. This is in stark contrast with two of Totheroh’s first statements:

“But Dowd's gospel is not one where sin is rebellion against God, but rejection of Darwin.”

“Likewise, salvation doesn't come from Jesus on a Roman crucifix, but merely embracing the emergent Universe.”

According to Dowd in “Thank God for Evolution,” salvation comes from actively living now, in accord with Jesus’ teaching. He calls this “deep integrity” and goes onto develop an extensive section on the attributes of and need/reasons for “Christ-likeness”.

One of the most insidious part of the article and several of the comments made here is the type of subtle personal attack that the dogmatic establishment has always made against those why ask the wrong questions and encourage a deeper level of inquiry. The blatant implication made is that Mr. Dowd (and in your response to my comments, me as well) is probably not a Christian or may even be an atheist in sheep’s clothing:

“What is true of Dowd is that he has held a worldview of religious atheism for over 20 years.”

("1) Rsvohi has made no argument other than to make unbacked assertions and personal attacks
(2) The new atheists are famous for making unbacked assertions that are full of personal attacks
(3) According to Gailon Totheroh's well-documented article, Mr. Dowd clearly identifies with, and supports the new atheists"

Again, one of the major premises of Mr. Dowd’s book is the idea that the differences displayed by religious believers and those who believe in evolution can be transcended by a deeper understanding of the truths presented by each. The idea that Dowd “identifies with, and supports the new atheists” is partially true at best and ignores the overall context of his stated purpose in “Thank God for Evolution”.

The real problem I see here is that Christianity is changing. People today are struggling with a outdated worldview that is no longer relevant to so many of the questions they face in their daily lives. The old, dogmatic explanations are not producing the personal transformation many are seeking. I believe Christ is capable of doing this, but the church is struggling to display His fruit. Mr. Dowd is certainly not offering a version of Christianity that will sit well with everyone. But as I stated earlier, he is seeking to put people in touch with something deeper than mere group membership or a literalist understanding of scripture. Labeling people who believe in Christ differently with terms like "New Age" will no longer prevent them from seeking. If the church as a whole cannot begin to provide deeper meaning and experience for people, it will become irrelevant. Those who cannot ask themselves the profound questions Dowd asks in his book are destined to watch their version of Christianity fade into history.

"A truly blessed Easter to all."

And to you as well.

A Cursory Assessment of the Civility of Mr. Dowd and his Followers

Let's have a little go at reviewing the civility of Mr. Dowd and his followers:

Mr. Dowd wrote: "Thank you, Rsvohi, for your passionate and generous comment! God bless you" -- and this was right after "Rsvohi" called Gailon Totheroh's article "totally dishonest" (and Rsvohi provided no evidence to support his argument). Apparently Mr. Dowd strongly encourages Rsvohi's line of argument.

No wonder Mr. Dowd says "'Thank God for the New Atheists'" -- he acts just like them by encouraging personal attacks instead of arguments.

"John West" challenged then challenged "Rsvohi" to "actually make an evidence-based comment and explain what specific descriptions or quotes in the article are inaccurate (and why)."

Let's now inquiry into Rsvohi's response to John West's challenge. Rsvohi writes:

My comments, while passionate, were neither an attack or argument of the ad hominem variety. The above article takes Mr. Dowd's ideas out of context. Read the book, check it out for yourself. If you disagree with him, fine, write an article about why you disagree. But don't take his ideas out of context as the basis of your criticism, that is intellectual dishonesty.

To Rsvohi: In most circles, accusing someone of "intellectual dishonesty" IS considered a variety of "ad hominem" attack. But let's look past that point. John West asked you for "specific descriptions or quotes" which show that Gailon Totheroh's is wrong (or as you call it "dishonest"). Your response provided ZERO specific descriptions or quotes of what in Gailon Totheroh's article is actually wrong.

Instead, Rsvohi, you made a vague charge that it "takes Mr. Dowd's ideas out of context". Why? Rsvohi, you are welcome to disagree with Gailon Totheroh, but you haven't given us any specific reasons why you disagree with him. You just made an assertion -- but an assertion is not an argument unless you back it up with evidence, quotes, and specific examples.

Instead of making an argument, you repeated your personal attacks on Gailon Totheroh, claiming he is now guilty of "intellectual dishonesty."

Rsvohi, I sense you are behaving very much like the new atheists: you are making personal attacks instead of arguments. Let's reword Rsvohi's words into something a bit more civil and reasonable:

Rsvohi: If you disagree with Gailon Totheroh, fine, write a comment about why you disagree. But don't make personal attacks and bald assertions about "dishonesty" as the sole basis of your criticism--explain why you disagree and provide quotes and specific examples.

I predict that Mr. Dowd will continue to encourage and support Rsvohi in this style of argument for 3 reasons:

(1) Rsvohi has made no argument other than to make unbacked assertions and personal attacks
(2) The new atheists are famous for making unbacked assertions that are full of personal attacks
(3) According to Gailon Totheroh's well-documented article, Mr. Dowd clearly identifies with, and supports the new atheists

I hope my prediction is wrong, but I fear it may come true.

Let us reason, not attack.

A truly blessed Easter to all.

Should we be impressed that Mr. Dowd can quote from Scripture?

Michael Dowd likes to quote scripture. He claimed to quote Acts 5:33-40 (actually he quoted Acts 5:38-39, but nevermind) stating: "If this undertaking originates with people alone, it will come to nothing. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop them, or you may even find yourself fighting against God."

Well, we all know that Satan quoted scripture at Jesus (Matt 4:1-10). I'm not saying Mr. Dowd is Satan, but it seems clear that the ability of someone to quote scripture doesn't mean they're right, or trustworthy, or on the right team. In fact, just about every false teacher in Christian history has quoted Scripture--to suit their own needs.

And the words Mr. Dowd quotes were not spoken by Jesus or an apostle--but by a Pharisee, Gamaliel. Mr. Dowd calls them "Gamaliel's words of wisdom," and perhaps we can rejoice that those words spared the Jesus's apostles from a beating. But there's no indication in the Bible that they are intended to be taken as truth from God. They're just the words of a famous Rabbi, not the words of Jesus or the apostles.

But let's try taking a rational approach to Mr. Dowd's comment:

What's the point of Dowd quoting this scripture? It seems to be some kind of a warning that if we oppose Dowd, then we might be "fighting against God".

Well, if as Mr. Dowd says, "God is not a person," then we probably don't too much to worry about, because only a person can get mad if you oppose them.

Also, it seems like Mr. Dowd quotes from this passage in Acts in order to shout down people who would criticize him. Let's be civil Mr. Dowd: we're allowed to disagree with you, Mr. Dowd, without being accused of "fighting against God."

Also, the way Mr. Dowd quotes this passage, it seems that he's suggesting some theological belief that worldly success dictate truth. Let's test Mr. Dowd's theological suggestion against history.

Let's say that Vladimir Lenin quoted Acts 5:38-39 in 1917 just after winning the Bolshevik Revolution in order to shout down his opponents. Things sure looked good for the Bolshevik's right around 1917--didn't they? Who could argue with such logic?

Well, beginnings aren't always the same as endings. Their communist revolution did succeed--for about 75 years, and killed millions of innocent people in the process. Sometimes early success doesn't mean you're right.

Also, even though the Russian communist revolution did start off with lots of success, it ultimately failed. Sadly, it took lots of people with it. So perhaps we should be careful about jumping on the latest fad. It might fail, and it might be destructive.

In fact, this same logic applies to the passage Mr. Dowd quotes. Mr. Dowd didn't quote the previous verse from Acts 5:37 which stated:

"Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered."

So sometimes leading a movement that initially has momentum doesn't always end so well. And it can do great damage to follow some new teacher whose ideas are overturning the Bible.

(Note: Jesus doesn't fit this category since everything he taught fit with the Bible. In contrast, Dowd says that the New Testament is "outdated" and says about the Bible: "To imply that the best guidance available today for interpreting salvation or any other doctrine is to be found in 2,000-year-old texts is to declare God as cruel, uncaring, and impotent." -- Michael Dowd, "Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion will Transform Your Life and Our World," pp. 181-182 (Council Oak Books, 2007).)

Finally, let's test Mr. Dowd's theological view that worldly success determines truth against Dowd's own teachings.

It sure seems like the last 2000 years have shown that the vast majority of Christians, Jews, Muslims, and humans in general have believed that God is "a person."

So if Mr. Dowd's theology teaches that that which succeeds is correct, then his view that "God is not a person" doesn't seem to be having much success.

Mr. Dowd teaches that salvation comes through believing in evolution ("I have watched young people experience salvation by learning about their evolutionary heritage") and he denies that salvation comes through believing in Christ ("'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 … and all may benefit from its guidance without necessarily converting to Christianity").

Mr. Dowd, I wish you a TRULY blessed easter where you understand that salvation comes through faith in the death and resurrection of Christ, and NOT through believing in and learning about evolution.

Taking Mr. Dowd in Context

Michael Dowd is welcome to believe what he wishes. But are these are the words of someone who is pretending to be a Christian? Mr. Dowd explicitly denies the Christian doctrine that we are saved through faith in Christ:

"I cannot agree that 'Jesus as God’s way, truth, and life' means that only Christians who believe certain things about Jesus or the Bible get to go to … heaven when they die. … For me today … '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 … and all may benefit from its guidance without necessarily converting to Christianity…" (Michael Dowd, "Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion will Transform Your Life and Our World," p. 316 (Council Oak Books, 2007).)

Contrast that with the words of Jesus:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son." (John 3:16-18)


"Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" (John 14:6)

Why did Jesus have to die on the cross if belief in his atoning sacrifice for sins is not necessary for salvation?

Dowd even says that salvation comes through believing in evolution! Read this quote from his book:

“Time and time again, I have watched young people experience salvation by learning about their evolutionary heritage—that they are the way they are because those drives served their ancient ancestors. Halleluiah! Our instincts are to be worked with, appeased in moderation, and re-channeled integrously—not condemned and repressed.” (Michael Dowd, "Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion will Transform Your Life and Our World," p. 187 (Council Oak Books, 2007).)

Mr. Dowd says: "Wishing you and your loved ones and readers a truly blessed Easter weekend!"

I wish you a blessed Easter as well Mr. Dowd but how can you call Easter "blessed" when you claim salvation comes through believing in evolution rather than believing that our sins are forgiven through the death and resurrection of Christ? Christ's death (and resurrection) are meaningless if they do not lead to the forgiveness of sins for the world.

Mr. Dowd writes "whenever we Christians slip into interpreting scripture literally, we belittle the Bible and dishonor God." (Michael Dowd, “Thank God for the New Atheists: A Sermon by Michael Dowd,” Skeptic Magazine, Vol. 16 (2):28-30 (2011).)

Mr. Dowd, I wish you a blessed Easter also, but who is belitting the Bible and dishonoring God here?

I leave you all with 2 questions:

Rsvohi: care to explain how these quotes are out-of-context?

Biologos fans who claim to be orthodox Christians: what do you think of Michael Dowd's theology?

Here's to wishing everyone a truly blessed Easter, where we truthfully understand Easter as the resurrection of Jesus as proof that Christ has beaten death and forgiven our sins.

I reject Mr. Dowd's conception of a "blessed Easter" where Christ didn't die for our sins, and where we're saved through believing in evolution. (In Dowd's own words: "I have watched young people experience salvation by learning about their evolutionary heritage".)

Melanie Stanley-Soulen asked "Who is Gailon Totheroh?"

If you do a simple google search of Gailon Totheroh's name you'll quickly find that he's a science / medicine journalist.

Thank You, and may He continue to bless you in all your ways.

My comments, while passionate, were neither an attack or argument of the ad hominem variety. The above article takes Mr. Dowd's ideas out of context. Read the book, check it out for yourself. If you disagree with him, fine, write an article about why you disagree. But don't take his ideas out of context as the basis of your criticism, that is intellectual dishonesty.

Michael Dowd writes: "God bless you!" But that's one thing He can't do, on Dowd's own view of God. Only a person can bless, and according to Dowd, God is not a person.

Steve writes of our wonder and awe and the creative Power and Presence of God. But once again, wonder and awe are emotions that can only be fittingly directed at a person.

An impersonal God is a loveless God. If that's the God that Michael Dowd wants to worship, then count me out. Love is the greatest thing there is, and any Ultimate Reality must be defined by it. In order to be capable of love, God must be personal.

Science is not science if it is reduced to a belief system. In my opinion this is the root of the problem with MD the marriage of Evolution and Christianity.

This problem is evident on the BioLogos website:
"We believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. We also believe that evolution, properly understood, best describes God's work of creation."

Rather than "believe" that evolution best describes God's work, we should instead find the evidence for evolution convincing or not. Evolution is a scientific theory, is it not? If it is a scientific theory, shouldn't there be an open debate about whether or not the data fit the theory? And if an individual or group of individuals find the data lacking, as a scientific endeavor, shouldn't we take them seriously? ID states simply that the evidence for Evolution (on the large scale) is not convincing.

How do you go from chemical precursors to functional protein? Where does the information in DNA come from? What are the biochemical steps required to "evolve" one organism to another?

ID merely keeps the door to these questions open. The disagreements over the answers to these questions and the fights that erupt as a result of these disagreements are very good for science. Our richest source of insight comes from our ability to examine opposing models so let's stop worrying about "making friends" and keep arguing.

Evolution does not need to become part of a belief system unless of course you are looking for a creation myth that is less "offensive" to the group you are longing to be part of. Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins and the New Atheists are edgy, in-your-face, and popular. Why not try to fit in and get the "big boys" to like you? If we strip away the rhetoric, this looks like what motivates MD and the other evolutionary Christians.

But creating a vanilla blend of Christianity and Evolution misses the mark for both science and religion. The New Athiests don't care if Christians "believe" in evolution. They want Christians to address their legitimate complaints against religion. Christians don't need another creation myth, they have one that works just fine. And finally and most importantly, debates about whether or not the evidence for evolution is convincing should continue if we want to keep calling evolution science. Like it or not, ID keeps evolution legitimate if only by forcing "believers of evolution" back into the lab for more data.

I think Dowd's doing wonderful work. I say that even though my own views differ from his. You see, I'm an atheist. Now my concept of atheism, which I go around my fellow atheists encouraging them to adopt, is a somewhat enlarged, evolved atheism. My atheism includes the belief in a triune God of the universe who created everything, who superintends its every detail, and whose divine and human Son entered His own creation to redeem humanity through His death on the cross. I think atheism is certainly open and diverse enough to embrace and include my own views, and I hope and trust that the atheist community will welcome me as one of their own with open arms. Anything else would be closed-minded dogmatism.

This is really sad. Dowd has managed to finally create a religion of which arch-atheist Richard Dawkins could be proud. See the Dowd web site where they gush over the "rock star" like fawining teenagers: http://www.thankgodforevolution.com/node/1729. It is rather pitiful what secular envy can sometimes drive us to. Rather than Dowd's special pleadings for the random and stochastic processes of Darwinism, I'd suggest some careful reflection on Paul's comments in Col. 2:8. Dowd and Dawkins in the name of Christianity, strange bedfellows indeed!

"This is what God the LORD says--He who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it..." (Isaiah 42:5)

"This is what the LORD says--your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the LORD, who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself." (Isaiah 44:24)

"This is the word of the LORD concerning Israel. The LORD, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and WHO FORMS THE SPIRIT OF MAN WITHIN HIM..." Emphasis mine, (Zechariah 12:1)

I don't know about the other participants in this blog, but the above description stands diametrically opposed to the "god" that "man" has created in his own image, of whom Mr. Dowd provides tacit lip-service.

In point of fact, the biblical Creator appears to be quintessentially
personal, caring, wholly self-aware, and
intimately involved with the details of so-called "mindless, unintelligent, unguided matter-and-energy in chaotic motion."

"The Spirit expressly says that in the latter times, some will abandon THE FAITH, and follow deceiving SPIRITS, and things taught by demons." Or, "doctrines of demons." (1 Timothy 4:1)

Perhaps no one has described the God and/or "god" of "Evolutionary Christianity" more poignantly than Phillip E. Johnson, in his 2002 book, 'The Right Questions':

"In the beginning were the particles and the impersonal laws of physics. And the particles somehow became complex living stuff; and the stuff imagined God; but then discovered evolution." (pp. 63-65.)

Now, just "whose report will we believe?"

"...Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and on the third day be raised again.'" (Luke 24:5-7)

May the Lord Yeshua haMashiach richly bless one-and-all with personal, intimate "revelation" of himself, as he did with "Saul of Tarsus," or Rabbi Sha'ul! A peaceful, and blessed
resurrection day to ya'...in Jesus' name!

One of the great powers of Michael Dowd's work is that if frees us from the limitations of the literal interpretation of the Bible -- without diminishing in any way the wonder, awe, and astonishment of the creative Power and Presence of God. We are free (free at last) to comprehend both the scientific explanations emerging from the study of evolution AND to reengage in the deeper Biblical meanings available through the contemplation of metaphysical interpretation. The direction is that science is moving toward the inevitable acknowledgement of the underlying spiritual Truth of our universe. This fuels hope that our intellect and intuition come to a point of reconciliation -- based on evidence and understanding rather than belief and speculation!

Thank you, Rsvohi, for your passionate and generous comment! God bless you!

The article in question is "totally dishonest"?!! Rather than lodge such an ad hominem attack, Rsvohi might try to actually make an evidence-based comment and explain what specific descriptions or quotes in the article are inaccurate (and why).

This "review" of Mr. Dowd's work is totally dishonest. It takes his points out of the context he places them in. If you have commented, without reading his book, you are also being intellectually dishonesty. Not good traits for those claiming to be Christians. I believe completely in Christ and His teachings in the New Testament. I accept Christ as my personal Savior (as well as recognize Him as the Savior of Mankind). I also accept Michael Dowd as a human who has confronted tough questions that the church has been unable to answer in a way that is satisfactory to so many. I don't agree with everything he presents, but MANY Christians find today's churches devoid of depth, and I applaud those who are seeking to find those answers. The mind, and the sciences it has given us, are a blessing from God. The Universe, and it's history, is a demonstration of the profound depth of God's glory. Evolution, which is so offensive to many Christians, only pays tribute to the ever unfolding power of the Almighty. Thank You Mr. Dowd for your book.

Who is Gailon Totheroh?

groovimus, I went through six rounds of chemo and had my spleen (and large tumor) removed a year and a few months ago. Last two CT scans showed no sign of cancer, so I'm hopeful. I thank God for Western medicine! Grace abounds! :-)

Thanks for your generous comment, Reginald. I hope your prediction is accurate!

Gailon, thanks for your excellently written article about me and the Evolutionary Christianity teleseries. ! In my defense, I would simlp suggest that you take to heart Gamaliel's words of wisdom to the Jerusalem Council, as recorded in Acts 5:33-40: "If this undertaking originates with people alone, it will come to nothing. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop them, or you may even find yourself fighting against God.”

Your readers can listen to the 38 interviews and decide for themselves, here: http://evolutionarychristianity.com/advent/

Wishing you and your loved ones and readers a truly blessed Easter weekend!

Warmly,

~ Michael

In the comments, I see crabbing that Dowd's religious view is reworked paganism. True enough. All religions are reworked paganism, topped off with a variety of supernatural deities.
But paganism is essentially earth based, with reverance of the natural world, or religious naturalism, as Dowd would call it. It's just that in these times, we know of the entire universe, not just the earth. Dowd's is a perfect view of reverence for our times; nature reverence without the supernatural deities.

I don't see success for MD. It is simple. Once Christianity is shorn of its mysticism and self-sacrificial ethic, Belief becomes redundant. An excess that can be lost. Nietzsche knew this. MD does not.

As you point out, religions evolve, just as
Christianity evolved out of Judaism. Just as Jesus was called a heretic or imposter by some, some here are calling Dowd a heretic.

Now perhaps it is time for a new religion to evolve out of the scattered forms of Christianity.
That wouldn't be a bad thing.

I have met Michael Dowd and his wife Connie Barlow and think they are fine people.

I think those troubled by this evolving form of religion should not be alarmed by it, but should embrace it and thank whichever hypothesized God they worship (each man has his own) for evolution.

Just as Dowd has done.

"Christianity has been constantly evolving since its inception. I predict Dowd's form of liberal Christianity will supplant current versions and become orthodox over the next hundred years or so."

No it hasn't, and your prediction is utterly inane.

Like all theistic evolutionists - he's either not aware of the discrepancy he's ignoring or he's really just another front-loader unwilling to admit what he really thinks. Case in point:

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2007/10/behe_to_miller_youre_an_intell004407.html

I met Michael after his Wednesday "sermon" at Unity Church in Houston years ago. I don't remember our conversation specifically but I do remember telling him I was a supporter of ID and him being somewhat put off when I offered a rejoinder to what he was saying. I've been on his mailing list all of these years and will say that he has been through cancer treatment, not sure of his situation at present

I've heard Dowd in person. He's obviously a heretic. I'm deeply concerned that Karl Giberson would form so close a bond with him.

"Dowd frames all he does in terms of openness and diversity. After all, he says, "Just like a forest or a pond eco-system, variety and different diversity of species makes for the health of an eco-system. I think that's true in consciousness and culture as well."

Ecosystems don't have to deal with metaphysical contradictions. Does Dowd actually think that diversity of consciousness and culture such as with Islam and Hinduism have contributed to the "health" of places like India, Pakistan, and Indonesia? Radical Islam a contributor to health of Iran and the greater middle east? Let the women answer that one.

Yes, Dowd's views are regurgitated paganism dressed up in a frock. Great analysis Mr. Totheroh.

Nothing new here. Mans inventiveness is in direct proportion to his unwillingness to take God on His own terms. Dowd is quite inventive.

Christianity has been constantly evolving since its inception. I predict Dowd's form of liberal Christianity will supplant current versions and become orthodox over the next hundred years or so.