Paradigm shift within “Thank God for Evolution” book by Michael Dowd? What do people think?

Hi all. This is my second BioLogos post, my first “Ethical Implications of God using evolution” might be worth checking out if you want see how I’ve come to this point. That point is of genuinely considering the paradigm shifting perspective presented in Michael Dowd’s book “Thank God for Evolution”.

I would love to hear people’s thoughts on his perspective. I’ll include a link below that goes some way to summarising it, obviously those who have read the book and had time to digest it would probably be best placed to answer but I’d still like to hear from newbies to his perspective like me.

In our internet world, it is indeed easy to make a snap judgement on things but I know the discussion here will be of a solid and thoughtful nature, as per what I’m learning is the BioLogos standard! :slight_smile: It is an emotive issue though - if someone put this to me only a few weeks and especially a few years ago, I’d pray for them as a total heretic. I’m a bit sad to now be acting as that kind of person (it’s a strange and unsettling emotion).

I haven’t finished listening to the book yet (I’m a listener not a reader) but I am a good way through. The perspective it presents is pretty electric. At first, it felt easy to dismiss it as something tosh posh … but as I listened more, it has some real grab. All at once the perspective is very disorienting but then kind of extremely grounding too.

In processing it so far, I’ve had the thought that evolution and it’s reality acts like a Christmas tree. On this Christmas tree or “reality tree” if you will, all different religions can colourfully hang their ornaments, that is - their unique perspectives and views. We can then learn from each other’s trees. Again, there’s an old part of me that writhes at the thought of saying this - heresy! and I still believe it in part (there is truth and non truth) but the lines of distinction are becoming blurry for me at the moment. I sense a truth about this perspective though, at least a very strong aspect of truth. Indeed, evolution or “the great story” as Dowd described it we understand is true. Within that, it is within evolved human cultures to search for meaning … meaning that is inevitably shaped by a community’s unique experiences. And thus we see the formula of how religion is created. That’s not to say truths religion speaks of are not true - but understanding the fragile human process of how the various conclusions of religion are reached especially against the backdrop of our good old buddy Evolution, that’s important.

Building on the analogy of ornaments beautifying and giving more meaning to a Christmas tree, my thinking is that the whole BioLogos movement is really all about how to set up the ornaments of Christianity on the evolution, of “reality”
tree. Indeed, I consider that within Dowd’s perspective I can still very much believe in God and in the power and beauty and reality of Jesus. To a good extent I do this by believing there had to be a mind or some kind of outside power determining how the perfectly unified laws of physics operate - those pre ordered mechanisms coming into effect after the Big Bang. With regard to the Bible and Christian doctrine - I believe, I do … but not without a lot of 21st century auto correcting along the way. This still leaves me pretty disorientated - in that the “God”presented in the Bible cannot really be the full and only true expression of God - certainly not the full picture. Separating what is true of God and what were cultural and historical overlays in the Bible becomes dizzying and is too much for me.

While going through such motions … within Dowd’s perspective I can take a look over at some of the other “reality” trees. The trees of the human expression reaching upward and looking inward that is religion. I can look at these trees now with integrity, curiosity and respect and largely set aside thoughts around who is right and who is wrong.

All this said … there is one main issue I’m having trouble with within this perspective. That is, Dowd seems to present ”the universe” as being the conscious centre of all that there is, rather than there being a God outside of the universe. I don’t know about that line of thinking though - I’d say God and therefore truth is still outside the physical universe but maybe the distinction is not that cut and dry. Also, Dowd doesn’t say per se there is not a God outside of evolution… but then, he kind of does. An interesting area - and one where Christianity would disagree.

So, I’m asking for your help :grimacing: Please, feel free jump in and add your thoughts … even to walk alongside me for a bit on this journey. It’s an interesting path I’m on - but I remain inspired by the words of the song “Faces” (Andy Moor and Ashley Wallbridge - which btw is dance/electronic music) that I outlined latish in my other, first thread. I’m still walking down the road on all this … but at the current time, Dowd’s perspective in “Thank God for Evolution” seems to be the best map I’ve picked up …

I bought this book a few weeks ago. I’ve not read it yet. I have read various reviews online and so I’ll have to wait until I read it to really have a opinion.

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Well, I take issue with that because it privileges scientific knowledge and implies that other ways of knowing truth (i.e. via faith, intuition, divine revelation) are just decoration on the “real” truth which is empirically, observationally, and logically accessed. I don’t think that is quite right. Other ways of knowing get you other kinds of insights.

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Well, I haven’t read the book–but from what I have read, Dowd is pretty much not a theist any more. I’m sure he has good insight, but he would not jive with Biologos’ faith.

That sounds a bit like Pantheism (the notion that the universe with all its laws is God). That may be descriptive of something like Einstein’s philosophy, but doesn’t jive with classical Christian thought. Then there is Panentheism which tries to patch up the difference by saying that God is also outside of and transcendent to the universe (as well as the universe being a part of God). That probably gets a bit closer - and even sounds a bit like where Richard Rohr takes it with his recent work: “The Universal Christ” (which I just finished reading for the first time). But don’t quote me on that one - I don’t know that I’ve ever heard Rohr use that word, and it may not represent his views at all. Most Christians look at both of those varieties as heresy, I think. Not that we need to be [totally] driven by fear of that label as we engage with each other about truth.

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Thanks Mervin. That book you mention, “The Universal Christ” sounds very interesting - I’ll probably end up reading it. What would you say were your main take aways from it, if you’re happy to share?

I really resonate with the title of the book since the plain fact is that I could not be a Christian without evolution. It is the only sufficient answer, as I see it, to the problem of evil & suffering as well as some of the atrocious things we find in the Bible itself. Since I was not raised Christian but came to the Bible with the scientific worldview as part of how I perceive reality. For me the question has always been whether Christianity has any value? So frankly the fundamentalist response of praying for the evolution heretic becomes in my hearing a prayer that all those nasty scientists go to hell, and excluding evolution has Christianity going out the window as the baby’s bathwater.

I haven’t read Dowd’s book, but I took a look at the review. Clearly the “stench of enlightenment” applies to any big shift of worldview even those who get their head turned around by Dowd’s book. LOL What the fundamentalists fear for good reason (like a history that includes the social-Darwinism and the social gospel) is that once you start inserting evolution into the Biblical narrative, the gospel of Jesus Christ will get lost or discarded in the resulting confusion. No few people take this problem of fitting the Bible to evolution as an opportunity to rewrite the text of the Bible to an alarming degree, as have so many of the pseudo-Christian groups to make the text fit what they want to believe.

But there really is no reason for any of this. I would say instead that evolution can be a reason to go back to the Bible and realize what has been revised or ignored in the Bible by those with enthusiasm to make creationism work better. And I would also suggest that the Bible was never meant to be used as horse blinders to make you ignore all the information God is sending us from the Earth and sky.

So… I quite agree with your sentiment about Dowd putting science too much in the center and with Christy’s objection to the metaphor of putting Christianity as an ornament on the evolution tree. As a scientist I will never back down from the epistemological superiority of the scientific method. But science is in the end just an activity and certainly not religion, life nor even the foundation of civilization (as the scientist claims in Arrival). Science is objective observation but life requires subjective participation and it isn’t a good idea to neglect this.

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Thanks Mitchell for sharing. It’s an interesting line Dowd walks between science and faith but listening further, it is very evident he premises science or “general revelation” far far ahead of “individual revelation”, e.g. more traditional faith. He reasons that God is big enough - sensible enough - to reveal truth via a means everyone could participate and come to faith in (that’s my interpretation of his words) and that this is done via general revelation (ie the sciences) rather than the means of having to believe something based on the revelation given to another but which is essentially inaccessible to the person having to believe it. It’s an interesting line of logic.

I’m aware that it is more or less against the Christian tenet of God choosing who to reveal himself to (while also wanting all to come to salvation) and of scriptures like “Jacob I loved but Esau I hated” etc.

I’ve been thinking more about that other book mentioned by @Mervin_Bitikofer “The Universal Christ” - unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be on Audible so it will be harder for me to access (I listen to things while I drive, do housework, lay in bed etc - much easier for me personally than reading) but the general concept - of Christ the Logos in all and through is something I want to explore more. Even though it still makes me twinge with a sigh of resignation - exploring such a concept would still require harmonising such an idea with evolution (as per the “Ethical implications of God using evolution” thread - I still take some umbridge with a God of life using death to create (evolution). The Christ in all theology could be mixed with Dowd’a conceptual framework (if it’d be called that?) but admittedly Dowd is a much more ‘non Christian specific universalist’ and while I definitely appreciate his perspective … I’d probably rather explore the general concept from a Christian specific point of view.

So… any other book titles people know of that explore the general concept of “Christ in all and through all” with an evolutionary slant? Preferably something I could access via an Audio book (the book of equivalent of gluten free haha)

Thanks

the review does not appear very helpful to me about the books content. I do however thank God for having evolved according to his plan. It is only when we free ourselves of the rather unenlightened concept of evolution being a random and unguided process that we can understand it for what it is, the execution of the word of God as to love thy neighbour like thyself. To look at survival fitness as the ability to kill or outcompete others for ones own survival has missed the message. In an age were we are aware of the global impact of our actions on other humans and other species it could not be more clear that survival fitness is based on the ability to love thy neighbour like thyself, e.g. ones parents, siblings or children. Without that the entire system gets destroyed. I thank God for having given me that insight in how he has used evolution to come up with something that can consciously love their neighbours.

I bought it as a Kindle-reader purchase from Amazon.

While I really resonated with most of its contents, I will qualify any otherwise full-throated recommendation I give it with the caveat that there were a couple chapters in the middle of the book that sound questionable to me - or I just need to re-read them for better understanding of his point of view.

But the main take-away from the work that I do strongly resonate with - and see as quite biblically faithful would be this: That as we grow in Christ, our circles of inclusion grow wider and wider. I.e. we typically find it easy enough to love those close and dear to us [i.e. our own familial and political tribes]. When we grow spiritually we will eventually learn to see Christ in “the least of these” and in fact even in the faces of our enemies [“the other”]. And if we were perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect, we would finally see Christ (God) in all of creation and would treat it accordingly. Not that we worship creation, which would be idolatry, but that we see Christ as immanent and present in and with all of it. No longer would we view creation (all creatures and the earth itself) as something for us to exploit, but that we would see how we treat all others (people, animals, things) as indicative of our attitude toward Christ. That was my main take-away.

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Well I can quite agree with this mostly… BUT I can only repeat my objection that this is science not religion, philosophy, or life. Science really amounts to little more than raw data and what it can tell us is extremely limited. In other words, there is a big difference between making sure your religion/philosophy agrees with the scientific findings and concocting a religion/philosophy out of the scientific findings as it sound like Dowd has done.

So while I can agree that there is a greater generality in the information God sends us from the Earth and sky, it might be going a bit overboard to call this revelation. I can also well understand that the Bible may not quite be for absolutely everyone, and I would not confine God to the Bible as if God cannot speak for Himself outside Christianity. Nevertheless, I think Dowd goes a bit too far in identifying the Bible with personal revelation. The Bible is still addressed to everyone and that has more generality than any philosophical or religious ideas which Dowd (or myself) concocts from scientific knowledge. Accepting the authority of the Bible is frankly a basic requirement of ones self-identification as a Christian.

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Hi again,

I just want to say that after listening more to Dowd’s book - I do not believe what he is actually proposing about God. It’s in fact a “Computer says No” reaction after thinking and processing it for longer, probably even more specifically “the Holy Spirit in me “says No”.

The more he explained his concept of “God” the more it became clear he is in no way a Christian. I was initially thinking he was somehow going to ‘swing things back around to Christ, as a fellow Christian battler on this journey of how to reconcile Evolution with Christian belief’ but he hasn’t. He’s gone rogue. God indeed to him is the universe. I know I touched on this in my initial post here … and a very great deal of what Dowd says makes very deep sense … but I sense ‘another spirit’ - something else, behind his thesis and it makes me feel uncomfortable. I keep thinking 1 John 2:19-28. Dowd wouldn’t like me saying that, but I don’t care.

The manner in which he sets up the book even is deceptive. Purposely deceptive. Like a Trojan horse he gives the impression he is actually a Christian and then springs later on “I’m not actually! And here are my strong non Christian beliefs masked as Christian ones”. I’m not letting the soldiers of those thoughts in that horse overtake my life. My spiritual fight has come out against that.

My thinking and searching side is still very strong though … and I’ve ordered some of Denis O Lamoureux’s books “Evolution: scripture and nature say yes” and
“I love Jesus and I accept Evolution” in the hopes of picking this journey up from there.

So, I’m putting down Dowd’s map. I don’t like where it leads, into a dark void of universe worship, essentially worshipping the creation rather than creator. That said, I still respect much of what he is saying and think Christianity would definitely benefit from an arms length assessment of his words. But beware his motives and what I sense may be a false spirit motivating him - I think there is more to him than what he necessarily makes out.

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Yes, I got that impression, too Thanks. I do very much like Lamoureux’ works; you can take his free course on line at Coursera (which was very illuminating). It’s all in video. He’s got great credentials from Regent and, I think, University of Alberta at Edmonton; and still does fossil research (he wrote about a grad student who showed him a transitional fossil of scales becoming teeth recently; you can find his evo papers on Pub Med). He’s on this site sometimes @DOL.

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Yes, you assessment on Dowd is judicious.

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Christopher, I am also a newbie on here. I do agree with the others, the Christmas tree analogy has some real problems.

An analogy that has helped me for a long time is the old Indian parable of the blind men and the elephant. I picture Christians holding The Bible (trunk), calling it a giant snake and Science holding to Evolution (a leg) and calling it a big tree. They both are right, but God is much bigger than that.

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For what it’s worth, Dowd stopped by the BioLogos offices three or four years ago and I talked with him for about an hour. He was very kind and encouraging in person, and seemed genuinely grateful that BioLogos is doing the work that we are. He said he wanted to explore some ways we might join forces, but it sort of felt like he was fishing for some money (thinking, as many people seem to, that we have a store room full of Templeton money… sorry to say that’s not how it works). I’ve skimmed enough of his work to judge that he wouldn’t make a very good spokesperson for us.

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Here is a YouTube podcast of Richard Rohr discussing his book The Universal Christ

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