April 21, 2014

Review: Thank God For Evolution! by Michael Dowd

78210.jpgUPDATE: Rev. Dowd has graciously joined the comment thread.

Thank God For Evolution! is available as a free pdf download. If you haven’t read the book and don’t plan on it, please keep your comments about the book and the author appropriately humble. Don’t expect a creationist debate in the comments of this post. Also, I am not a scientist, and I don’t play one on my blog.

Michael Dowd may be the most optimistic person you’ll ever hear or read.

Dowd is an evangelist for the marriage of evolution and…..everything. Religion. Philosophy. Psychology. Politics. Human relationships. Education. Child-raising. Environmentalism. Marriage.

“What is the whole duty of man?” According to Dowd, it’s to discover and participate in the transforming power of the “Great Story” of “Creathism,” Dowd’s word for the marriage of a materialistic, evolutionary, basically pantheistic worldview with all our quests for meaning, improvement and knowledge.

When I first received Thank God for Evolution! to review, I assumed I was going to be reading an attempt to reconcile traditional Christianity with the consensus of modern science regarding the age and history of the universe. Ever since I read Conrad Hyers’ The Meaning of Creation and realized that the Bible wasn’t a science book and its inspiration wasn’t involved in the views of science in ancient cultures, I’ve not lost much sleep over the relationship of religion and science.

I was aware, of course, of the creationists who exert substantial influence in today’s evangelicalism. I learned long ago that the Hamm and Hovind video curriculum was already in the heads of most of my Bible students before I got them, and as soon as it became obvious that I didn’t buy creationism, I’d be made into an evolutionist by default. My response has been to teach the Bible as literature, avoid the controversy, keep my job and moderately frustrate the committed creationists who know me.

Michael Dowd is, to say the least, in the category of “now for something completely different.” For starters, his academic pedigree makes him “one of us.”

Michael graduated summa cum laude from Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri (affiliated with the Assemblies of God), where he received a B.A. in biblical studies and philosophy. He also graduated with honors from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary (now Palmer Seminary) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (affiliated with the American Baptist Church), where he earned a Master of Divinity degree. Rev. Dowd served as a congregational minister for nine years, pastoring churches in Massachusetts, Ohio, and Michigan.

Today, however, Dowd is a minister with the United Church of Christ and his theology is his own adventurous exploration of the “Good News of Evolution.”

That “Good News” isn’t just the facts of evolution. Dowd doesn’t waste your time on that one. If you are a doubter about evolution as a given in science, all I can tell you is that this book is hardly aware of your existence. Dowd- rightly- says that the discussion about the basic facts of the “Great Story” have really been settled among 95% of scientists and debate with creationists isn’t where the action is. (He’s remarkably generous with creationism, as he is with all worldviews.) The mission now is to make everyone, no matter their religion or lack thereof, into a person who sees what Dowd sees in the story of the universe: The Gospel of Evolution and it’s world changing implications

By now, some of you should see a face and hear a voice dimly in the background. Let’s be quiet and listen….

“The Cosmos is all there is, ever was or ever will be….”

Yes, let’s welcome to our blog post this evening the spirit (so to speak) of Dr. Carl Sagan, former prophet and evangelist for the religion of personal meaning via understanding that we’re all related to one another through the story of the universe.

Thank God for Evolution! is Carl Sagan on steroids. Where Sagan waxed occasionally poetic and promised that human beings could find the only answers that mattered in the stars, Dowd is a full rock band with sound system and light show. Evolution and its ability to transform everything and everyone is the most exciting story there is, and we are on the verge of an incredible social and planetary revolution as human beings come to understand who and what they are in the evolutionary story. There really are no limits to Dowd’s claims for what evolution can mean to your life. “Zealous” doesn’t start to describe him.

As I said at the outset, Michael Dowd is an optimist. He’s so optimistic that he’s never seen a philosophical or religious claim, teaching or confession that can’t be clarified, improved or powerfully reinterpreted by evolution. That optimism is on display in the large number of endorsements for the book; endorsements that run the gamut from Nobel prize winning scientists, theologians, new age personalities, philosophers, Buddhist monks, atheists, apostate episcopal bishops and many more characters with a stake in seeing evolution triumph as a unifying worldview.

Optimistic? I’ll say. According to Dowd, Christianity just needs the truth of evolution to get out of its “flat earth” constructs (Dowd’s word for pre-scientific reality maps) and into “evolutionary faith.” Christianity needs to become “evolutionary Christianity” if it is going to speak meaningfully to the world today. (Yes, you’ve heard that one before. “Bishop” John Shelby Spong is an endorser.)

The “Gospel?” That’s the message of evolutionary Christianity, not the message of the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascended reign of Jesus. In fact, the word “Christ-like” is about as good as it gets with Jesus in Dowd’s book. Jesus shows us just how good a person we could each become if we let go and let the evolutionary universe get ahold of you. If I were debating Mr. Dowd, I’d have one point: “What Jesus means to Michael Dowd.” The whole story of Dowd’s confident retooling of Christianity to fit his worldview could be told right there.

Evolution has the answers to what the Bible actually means by “sin.” (Reptilian brain, etc.) It has the answer for what it means to know God. (The universe as a whole is what we mean by God.) It puts the Bible in a place where it can be understood for what it is. (A text that tries hard to help us be good people living good lives in a good creation. It just didn’t have the whole story.) Evolutionary Christianity will clarify the problems with “private” revelation and help us to see that God really speaks the language of “facts,” and we all know who can understand that language, now don’t we? That’s right Johnny. Scientists who are here to help us.

The Trinity? Authority of Scripture? The God-Man? Heaven? Judgment? Your belief system can really be a lot less cumbersome if Dowd is correct. All this is just metaphor and “flat earth” concepts; “truth” in a considerably less “truthful” form.

What you’ve got here, despite Dowd’s relentless optimism, is a very attractive form of pantheism, the philosophy C.S. Lewis said he would embrace if he weren’t a Christian. Dowd makes a small and sincere attempt to differentiate his views from pantheism, but I’ll wager no one who passed a freshman philosophy course is buying it. God IS the total reality. Personality in the universe is….those of us who are self-aware persons. It’s a materialistic universe and there is no God beyond it, in it, before it or transcending it. God is. Salvation is. Reality is. God can’t be denied because he is the one totalizing fact that can’t be escaped. The truth of the universe as science describes it is the truth of evolution is the truth of religion is the truth of (fill in the blank.)

Dowd defines himself as a Christian (or part of the Christian tradition,) but his Christianity exists as a metaphor for pantheistic, evolutionary materialism. His “Christ-exalting” philosophy, at the end of the day, is just his chosen optional way of describing the same world where the atheist says there is no God, where the Muslim finds Allah and the Hundu finds Vishnu. Dowd is blunt on this point: Whatever your worldview, evolution will work for you. That’s the added bonus of discovering that all our ways of conceiving of truth are acceptable in this reality we can’t escape or avoid. If you want the truth, talk about evolution. If you want transformation, let evolutionary thinking and the “Great Story” of “salvation” through an evolving universe transform you.

At one point, Dowd tells a story about a questioner who asked where a particular dead friend “was.” Dowd’s answer: being consumed by bacteria. And sitting at the right of God, reigning with Christ, if you’d like to see it that way. No difference. All the same thing.

Now that’s optimistic, because is Dowd is right, Jesus was eaten by bacteria too.

There are a lot of good and helpful aspects to this book. I thought the section on brain development and the insights of evolution on human behavior, especially addictions and sexual behavior, were very good. Much of what Dowd says about prescientific conceptions is true. His recognition of various kinds of language is basic to talking about science and religion. His sense that the universe is glorious and that the universe speaks the language and glory of God is commendable. His own ethic of love, service, humility and kindness are obviously to be affirmed and celebrated.

I respect what Michael Dowd is doing and I believe it is a valuable contribution to the philosophical and scientific discussions of science and religion. I hope thousands and thousands of people gain the enthusiasm for science and knowledge that Dowd has and shares all over America. I would far rather my students hear his presentation than much what I hear coming from Christians in the creationist camp.

I agree with the director of the Vatican observatory that many Christians will find they have much less to fear from evolution than they thought, and much in the view of the universe Dowd communicates that Christians can affirm. Where Dowd is showing us the work of the creator God of scripture and the God who we know in Jesus, I can agree with him and appreciate him. But I believe Dowd’s optimism simply extends too far. Scientists do not deserve to be given the amount of unqualified confidence Dowd gives them. He reads like the press spokesman for the American Academy of Science. Christians cannot go all the way with Dowd’s view of knowledge, his view of scripture, his view of God or his view of Jesus.

Evolution is not a grand narrative. Someone’s presentation of selected facts and theories is a “grand narrative.” God is not tied to the language of “flat earth,” prescientific constructs, but he’s not revealing himself finally and authoritatively as science either. Christians believe God made himself known when he was incarnate in Jesus. (I can already hear how Dowd’s pantheism takes the incarnation and heads for an Oprah-esque version of Jesus as the proto-typical “All of us are God” position.)

Dowd needs to spend a year reading Karl Barth or Francis Schaefer to understand how Christians view this kind of unbridled optimism regarding general revelation. The God we know is finally, uniquely knowable only in Jesus Christ. The universe is God’s handiwork, but we cannot know the creator via the creation as we know him through the incarnation and the Word made flesh. (There it goes again. Evolution becomes conscious of itself and so on.) Despite all the wonderment of what we know about the creator as a result of science, we are left at the manger, the cross and the empty tomb with a different kind of knowledge and experience entirely. The Trinitarian God is far, far greater than the universe he has made. His greatness remains to be seen, because no matter how optimistic we are, eye has not seen and ear has not heard what God has yet to reveal about himself in the universe redeemed by Christ.

One last note: It’s quite likely many in the emerging church will read Dowd, since lots of reconciliation in the air, and head right down the road to Pantheism and the New Age Movement. Make no mistake about it: when it comes to orthodox, historic Christianity, Dowd is not only wrong, he’s not nearly as impressed with Jesus as he is with evolution’s “grand story.” Pantheism has its appeal, but at the end of its road it destroys the incarnation itself by radical reinterpretation. It’s a great temptation in post-modern times to give heed to anyone selling the elimination of rancorous debate, and Dowd is surely enthused to do that. But once Dowd’s version of reality has been heard, Jesus Christ is not Lord and God any more than you are.

Comments

  1. Thanks Michael. I’d seen some of the press releases & was leery, but given my interest in the interaction between evolution & an evangelical expression of the Christian faith, I was planning on reading it anyways. You saved me the trouble. Thanks.

  2. re: Barth

    I just started reading him…wow….he’s intense. Definitely not someone you just pick up and read in a couple of hours, but I like what I’ve read so far.

  3. Just got an e-mail from him letting churches in my area know he was coming around and that we could schedule to have in him to chat if we wanted. We’d discussed the book on Christdot and it looked at bit….odd…then I followed a link to his blog and my only thought is that he’s got the same problem the Creationist-scientists do when they come to the text, he siphons out the mystery. In the end I just get the sense that it all gets boiled down to facts and that a sense of wonder is only allowed as a response to those facts.

    I’ll have to read this book – as he seems to come at the “science vs. faith” struggle from an angle adjacent to the one I’m on – but I likely won’t be extending him an invitation either. Getting together for a cup of coffee, on the other hand, might be interesting.

  4. I haven’t read the book so I won’t comment on it or its author much. But it’s nothing new. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries we really didn’t understand Christianity until we married it to neoPlatonism. In the 10th-12th centuries we really didn’t understand it until we married it to Aristotle. In the 17th-19th century we didn’t understand until we married it to Reason. Now we don’t understand it until we marry it to Evolution. Seems typical. There’s always some paradigm someone is telling us to “view God through to really understand him”, whether it is a gnostic, a Thomist, or Dowd.

    I will say one thing though, the author’s viewpoint is the viewpoint of all evolutionists in theory. They are pantheists. God is the universe. They assume a creative, personless intelligence behind all material realities, I’m glad Dowd at least acknowledges it for what it is. Interesting guy…and from an AG college?

  5. Steve, I invite you to read my book and make up your own mind. It’s available as a free download: http://ThankGodforEvolution.com Or easier yet, sample first my 12-page “Evolutionary Christianity” essay: http://ThankGodforEvolution.com/EvolutionaryChristianity.pdf Then, as led by the Holy Spirit, prayerfully follow your heart in deciding whether to engage with my book. I’d be extremely surprised if you don’t have a rather different take on my book than Michael does.

    Wezlo, I’d offer the same suggestion to you. And yes, a cup of coffee would be wonderful.

    Michael, thanks for your amazing review of my book! You are a gifted writer with a keen wit. I’ve rarely had the experience of being so seen AND so misunderstood by the same person before. Two brief clarifications:

    1) I hardly agree with Carl Sagan’s comment: “The Cosmos is all there is, ever was or ever will be….” I would heartily disagree with it, actually.

    2) Creatheism is NOT pantheism (or even panentheism, for that matter). Your critical view of pantheism and new ageism is well taken – but don’t hit the mark with respect to criticizing my perspective. The Nested Emergent Nature of God’s Creativity is a fact. This was not, and could not have been, known/revealed prior to telescopes, microscopes, and computers. Reinterpreting the core elements of our faith: Original Sin, Salvation, the Trinity; the Incarnation, Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus; the Second Coming of Christ, Heaven, Hell, and so on is not only our responsibility, it is our Great Work. I do not pretend to have the final understanding of these – in an Creation that is developing over time (evolving), I’m not sure there will ever be a “final answer.” I do hope and trust, however, that my reframing these will serve as a early step along the way of being able to glorify and praise God and live victoriously in Christ in an evolutionary context. I expect others will improve – wildly in many cases – on what I’ve written. But to think and tell others that what I’m offering here is just a different form of pantheism is misleading, and will surely cut off creative thinking and exploration (as Steve’s comment suggests).

    In any event, thank you again, Michael, for your detailed, if mixed, review of my book. Next time Connie and I are in southeastern Kentucky, I hope to have the opportunity of meeting you and perhaps enjoying a cup of coffee, tea, or a meal as well.

    God bless you!

    ~ Michael

  6. Mistake in point number 1) above: “is astonishing to me” should be deleted

  7. I would like to also recommend you read “The Case for a Creator,” by Lee Strobel. It is quite amazing to see how many scientist are radically changing their thinking on evolution and creation. The book reads well and will make you think!

  8. Chad Winters says:

    Personally I prefer the approach of the scientists at http://www.reasons.org with science being the study of the handiwork of God.

    I would disagree that Creation is evolving. An orthodox Christian worldview and a naturalist scientific worldview would agree that overall Creation should devolve, (i.e. entropy increases and the universe if left alone would continue to spread out until its just scattered cold dust in a vast space.. The Christian worldview of course, expects God to step and create a new perfect creation. A short term increase in biological complexity on one planet does not equal the evolution of all of Creation.

  9. I have read his short essay detailing his position, so I believe that gets me another $.02 worth. I reaffirm my previous suspicions. This is nothing new, there are always extra-biblical viewpoints that claim this “window” is required to properly view Scripture. Whether Gnostics, Platonists, Thomists, etc.
    It is basically, fit all of Scripture into an evolutionistic framework, and discard the bits we don’t like. (Pages 4 paragraph 2 kind of alludes to this rewriting of “what” God said) The author also believes “facts” and not Christ is the “native tongue” of God’s statement to humanity. We can misrepresent Christ and Scripture, but not science. What about all the millions of misrepresented studies by German’s in WW2 about the Jew’s inferior status? Facts aren’t objective because we call fact what we want to be a fact.
    Science is a philosophy. I have taken statistics for business and see how people can read into the data what they want. It happens all the time, from pharmaceuticals to political polls. Statistics is some of the spongiest language around, and a good portion of science is statistically-based. Humans interpret statistics like preacher interpret Scripture.

    There are more holes in it, but no use mentioning here. I’d love to ask Dowd some direct questions.

    I will agree though that if there is evolution, it must be theistic evolution. How a non-sentient red flower ends up evolving to attract a yellow butterfly, who happens to have a long retractable “straw” coming out of his face is beyond any blind system. Unless the flower communicates to the bug “come use a straw on me” and the bugs just happen to survive the more “straw-like” they are…it doesn’t cut mustard. Specialized parts that match other complex organisms with no intercommunication gives such genius to “nature” that we might as well call it “god”.

    It is interesting though, and at least he is engaging the science. I just think he doesn’t press it hard enough and ask what is it really saying, and how does it really say that….but that’s my philosophically-based position.

  10. Hi Michael D.,
    I read through your essay “Evolutionary Christianity”. First, let me say that I agree with you that biological evolution is the best explanation for the development of life on earth. Second, I too believe that the acceptance of biological evolution is compatible with an Evangelical expression of the Christian faith.

    However, I am concerned that the way you define Evolutionary Christianity is nowhere close to being compatible with Evangelical Christianity, or even Orthodox Christianity for that matter. I’m not sure I’d agree with Michael S. that your view is equivalent to pantheism, but there is certainly enough evidence in the short essay that I read for me to infer that your view of God is very different from the Triune God of the scriptures. I’m not sure there is much point in discussing the finer points of your theology or worldview until something as basic as this is addressed.

    I’m going to respond to one short point here. You stated above:
    Reinterpreting the core elements of our faith: Original Sin, Salvation, the Trinity; the Incarnation, Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus; the Second Coming of Christ, Heaven, Hell, and so on is not only our responsibility, it is our Great Work.

    I would agree the Church’s theology cannot remain stagnant (after all, theology is only our limited, fallible, human view of an infinite God) but my fear is that you are not only reinterpreting / rearticulating the historic view of the Church, but rewriting it. And it is definitely NOT our Great Work.

    George Murphy, both an eminent scientist and theologian, has written an excellent book entitled “The Cosmos in the Light of the Cross”. He discusses modern scientific concepts like cosmology and biological evolution from the standpoint of an orthodox Christian whose basis for reality is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. “Evolutionary Christianity” looks to me like it has things rotated 180 degrees from this. Ie. “ “The incarnation, cross, and resurrection in the light of Evolution”. It appears to usher in Teilhard’s omega point, but not necessarily the Kingdom of God.

    Jmanning:

    You state that:
    I will say one thing though, the author’s viewpoint is the viewpoint of all evolutionists in theory. They are pantheists. God is the universe.

    I’m puzzled as to how you come to this conclusion. Many of us who accept both the reality of evolution and the Creator of scripture (and the apostles creed & the Nicene creed) are the furthest things from pantheists. Have you ever read Francis Collins’ book “The Language of God” or Darryl Falk’s “Coming to Peace with Science”? You may not agree with their conclusions, and may believe they are wrong, but you could never accuse them of being pantheists.

  11. Steve,

    A purely materialistic evolutionist is intended there. I explained in my second comment that a super intelligent “nature” = “god”. A theistic evolutionist is no pantheist, I agree. You are correct. Sorry I was vague.

  12. This book makes it clear that God = the sum total of reality. There is no creature/creature distinction, but an evolving whole. The only “personal God” is the evolving personal aspect of the whole. Pantheism of a sort. Buddhism of a sort. Gaia of a sort. It’s a unique spin, but the gist is that all is one, all is “God.”

    The key for me is that the interpretative narrative isn’t the narrative of scripture and every orthodox confessional distinctive regarding Jesus is given the familiar Crossan/Jesus Seminar treatment.

    I’m not enough of a scientist to have much of an opinion. I found Teilhard (sp) to be fascinating years ago. Theistic evolution isn’t a hang up for me, but I don’t tend to see scientists as being dependably truthful.

    My issues would be the same issues I’d have with most UCC ministers probably.

  13. Ted Otteson says:

    I also thank Michael Spencer for his detailed, and in many ways insightful, review of Dowd’s book. However, it seems to me that Spencer reveals the heart of his misunderstanding of Dowd when he says that Dowd’s universe is a materialistic one. A materialistic universe is an objective one: the universe is an object.

    But Dowd’s universe includes all the subjective experience of all subjects in the universe.

  14. What exists that is non-material in that universe? Ex: God is a Spirit….

  15. I appreciate this discussion. For me, the God of scripture is a God who has been communicating faithfully since biblical times, and who continues to communicate through facts. This is in no way denying Christ as THE word of God. Ted’s point above is accurate: as Thomas Berry http://thankgodforevolution.com/blog/p,34/says, “The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.”

  16. Ted Otteson says:

    God is incarnate in Dowd’s universe, just as I am and you are.
    Central to Dowd’s explanation is the fact that the universe is not simply material.
    As a teacher of literature, I was once asked by a history professor what we in literature teach, given that we talk about people who never “existed.” For him the only reality was material reality. For me, and, I think, for Dowd, “objective” and “subjective” are equally real. The universe is Spirit incarnate in matter, as I am and you are.

  17. This is a good discussion thread. The irony of this thread is its location along site recent threads about Christians who are frustrated to the point of despair by self-righteous Christians or by internal struggles with their own sin and inadequacy. Much of this religious sickness is born out of the moral evolution teachings of the 19th century revivalists – that if you try hard enough, you can be perfect. Secular evolution is the same: just evolve. The despair and depression comes from the reality that…WE CAN’T! All the Darwinian or Kantian positivism in the world will not change this. So, we are back to the theme of the previous threads: we need a Savior. This is a pessimistic message for the evolutionists and moralists; it is the hope of glory for those of us who know we are beyond the aid of evolution and are being pushed into the abyss of natural selection. The saviors of evolution, e.g. Hitler, are busy ridding the earth of the unevolved. And you thought judgemental Christians were a downer!

  18. I’ve skimmed Rev. Dowd’s 12-pager, so what I’m about to contribute isn’t informed by his full elaboration. I will put down my remarks as mere “markers” to be considered and examined as one sees fit.

    1. His evangelistic zeal for this thesis is both charming (in the older sense of the word) and irritating. Given the choice, I’d much rather read and engage someone like Rev. Dowd who believes that he has an insight into something that really matters rather than someone who remains aloof from their beliefs. However, this charm is more than offset by the Harold Hill enthusiasm for the “advantages” of Evolutionary Christianity. Framing his positions in terms of American pragmatism, of encouraging beliefs for the sake of their “benefits,” plays into the besetting sin of our culture to despise the resources of patient, thoughtful and deliberate analysis of “big” and complex questions and problems.

    2. I think it is worthwhile to adopt Rev. Dowd’s perspective for a moment and attempt to appreciate the monumental irony that the one group of people who most publicly and loudly denies the facts of evolution have at their foundation a Book that is an evolutionary story from start to finish. Old man/creation to new man/creation and all that.

    3. While I agree with the iMonk’s point about blurring to the point of erasure the creature/Creator distinction, I think it is important as we seek to understand God, the world, and humans that we adopt an approach that assumes and pursues the integration of knowledge and understanding. Rev. Dowd’s dialecticism, like all such patterns of explanation, tend toward the synthesized unity; but they can also be mutually corrective of overemphases, underemphases, and astigmatisms in our conceptions of the contraries.

    4. For comparison’s sake, I would classify Rev. Dowd’s philosophical thesis within the sphere of Hegel. I would love to elaborate on this, but there’s no way to do it a comment thread without reducing to unhelpfully broad themes and technical jargon, which I fear I’ve already done.

    5. The Inkling Owen Barfield may be Rev. Dowd’s closest familiar (without the sophisticated street vendor promotionalism). Barfield had two curious influences: the British Hegelians and Rudolph Steiner’s anthroposophy. Despite the openness to all kinds of possible poisons, including some already mentioned in this thread (gnosticism, occultism, pantheism, panentheism), he remained an orthodox Christian. I think when we get to chat with C. S. Lewis in the next life, he will credit Barfield as much as (if not more than) Tolkien for his conversion. Barfield has been very important for my own philosophical apprenticeship in opposing positivism of all kinds. He doesn’t have a lot of material that deals explicitly with Christianity or the Bible, but what there is is, as Rev. Dowd hopes his own thesis is, quite breath-taking in its vision of the cosmos and the invisible principles at work in it. Barfield has some delightful reflections on the Psalms, as well as some profound insights into Jesus (I think the essay I have in mind is “Son of God and Son of Man” in The Rediscovery of Meaning). I don’t often get to promote my friend Barfield, but I do so here advisedly as a helpful perspective and possible key to appreciate some of what Rev. Dowd is up to.

  19. Ah, Mr. Otteson appears to be channeling Owen Barfield. Perhaps I’m not too far off the mark.

    Barfield arrived at his unorthodox orthodoxy by way of literature and his study of language. Poetic Diction lays down his central theses that he continued to develop over the course of his long life. Oh, and about his influence on Lewis. If you recall, it was Tolkien’s ability to turn Lewis’s love of mythopoeia against his Great Knock’s common sense empiricism that the Spirit used to open the myth-become-fact Gospel to him. Barfield’s role in this process cannot be overestimated. He had long been hammering away at Lewis’s positivism by pushing the thesis that myth is as revelatory of truth as are facts (and more so) and is necessary to overcome some of the false binarisms in the ways in which we understand the world. What Lewis knew experientially (joy; the numinous) Barfield was able to elaborate in an intellectually rigorous and systematic way. Once you’ve read Barfield and you go back and read Lewis, it’s a little bit like reading the NT and finding the OT everywhere in it.

  20. Ted Otteson says:

    Thanks, Dr. Hunter, for bringing Owen Barfield into this discussion. I shall get better acquainted with his work.

  21. What a deep and delightfully erudite discussion!

    Twice, Michael Spencer mentions me as a United Church of Christ minister (once in his post and again in the discussion). I must confess that this is actually no longer the case. Yes, It is true that I was originally ordained in the UCC and pastored three UCC churches (the first was a Federated Church – also affiliated with the American Baptists). But I was disfellowshipped by the UCC in 1995 because the denominational leadership concluded, rightly so, that I was unfit at the time to be a UCC pastor. While serving my first church, in 1989, I had an affair with a deacon in my congregation. Because of my confused morals and utter disregard for appropriate pastoral boundaries, I was deemed unsuitable for pastoral ministry. I fully agree with their decision. Parts III and IV in my book, “The Gospel According to Evolution” and “Evolutionary Spirituality” reflect my path of repentance and coming back to the Lord, in light of what God has been publicly revealing to humanity through evolutionary psychology and evolutionary brain science. In many ways this is the heart of my book (Michael, I was happy to see you say that one of the things you valued about were these sections.) As I say in the Introduction to TGFE!:

    Part III, “The Gospel According to Evolution,” heralds the most immediately
    practical and personal segments of this book. If your encounters
    with the scientific understanding of evolution in school, in your religious
    education, or via the media have not yet offered anything of value for
    your day-to-day living, or if the evolutionary worldview seems harsh and
    perhaps threatening to your faith, then you might want to dive right into
    this part. Perhaps you, too, will experience the saving grace I felt when
    I learned how our evolutionary past is still influencing each and every
    one of us. From this vantage, the path to freedom becomes both obvious
    and achievable. By understanding our brain’s creation story, new possibilities open up for overcoming long-standing personal challenges and
    living a life of deep integrity and unspeakable joy.

    Part IV, “Evolutionary Spirituality,” extends the practical emphasis by
    offering a solid program for personal and relational transformation
    grounded in evolutionary integrity. Yes, the practical is spiritual. Spirituality
    is not merely about prayer or meditation, mystical experiences,
    or, indeed, anything ethereal. It is about cultivating right relationships
    at every scale of reality.

    Chapter 11, “Evolutionary Integrity Practices,” provides exercises
    that can bless your life and the lives of everyone with whom you are
    in relationship—no matter what your religion, philosophy, or beliefs.
    These are tools that will help you embody evolutionary spirituality in
    healthy and empowering ways. Each practice is crafted to support your
    growth in deep integrity—that is, in trust, authenticity, responsibility,
    and service. This is the book’s most practical and potentially life-changing
    chapter. Even those who do not embrace evolution will find this chapter
    useful and the exercises transforming.

    Chapter 12 explores the essential elements of “Evolving Our Most
    Intimate Relationships.” Here we learn how respectful communication,
    touch and tenderness, playfulness and humor, meaningful songs and rituals,
    and service all reveal evolutionary wisdom. Attending to these, we
    ensure that our most meaningful relationships evolve in healthy ways.

    A reminder to all: the entire text of Thank God for Evolution! is available as a FREE pdf here: http://www.ThankGodforEvolution.com

    And on the issue of optimism. I realize that I may sound optimistic but in actually fact I’m neither an optimist (someone who believes it doesn’t matter what we do, things will get better and better), nor a pessimist ((someone who believes it doesn’t matter what we do, things will get worse and worse). I guess I’m a meliorist (from the word ameliorate). To quote my friend Tom Atlee, a leading thinker and activist in the field of “collective intelligence” http://www.co-intelligence.org/ (when people ask him how he thinks we’re doing as a species) “It seems to me that things are getting better and better and worse and worse faster and faster.” :-)

    What does the future hold? Only God knows. So I put my faith in God, follow the leading of the Holy Spirit as best I can, pursuing what I believe in my heart is God’s will for me, and stay utterly and totally committed to growing in Christ-like evolutionary integrity, with the support of others.

  22. Thanks for that personal update, Michael. Internet Monk is a welcome place for people and their real stories of learning, grace and starting over.

    BTW….I don’t want you to miss that I appreciate all kinds of things that you are doing. I live in hard core creationism country and I’m sure we’d have a good time comparing notes.

    If you ever get within driving distance of Eastern KY, let me know.

  23. Paragraphs 2-5 in the above should be indented or blocked – it’s a direct quote from the Overview of my book. But because I’m relatively new to the world of blogging and discussion threads, I did not know how to do this. If someone is willing to educate me about such things, I’d be most grateful.

  24. WordPress really does the formatting. It looks fine. Next time just remove all html tags except italics, etc.

  25. Thanks, Michael. Yes, I will definitely look you up when I’m in your neck of the woods. May not be until 2009, however.

  26. This is off-topic, sorry (enjoying the thread)
    I’ve read Lewis, Tolkien, Sayers and Williams but not Barfield.
    I was intrigued by Joel Hunter’s posts

    Joel where should one begin reading Barfield? Thanks!

  27. rasselas, to get a sense for the overall contours of his thought as well as an introduction to the main theses of almost all of his work, I’d recommend first Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry (50s) and then Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning (20s).

  28. I can only say, read all of John Polkinghorne’s books and especially Kenneth Miller’s “Finding Darwins God”.

    Perfect for those looking to transcend the pseudo-science of Intelligent Design and Creationism.

    And then read Alister McGrath’s “Dawkins God” to get behind the pseudo-science of Dawkins and others of his ilk.

  29. Joel, Thanks again!

  30. Mr. Dowd,

    Are your views not close to what Bultmann did with his demythologizing of the New Testament? I found your comments interesting.

    I am not saying that there is a one to one correspondance, since Bultmann sought to reinterpret the bible in terms of existential categories.

    Blake

  31. Blake,

    Possibly. I’m not sure. It’s been a couple of decades since I’ve read Bultmann.

  32. Jeffrey Edwards says:

    Mr. Dowd,

    I’m not American (I’m Australian) but I’ve been following the upcoming U.S. federal election coverage (I take an interest in who will head the most powerful country in the world) and it concerns me that two Republican candidates, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, that are seen as serious contenders are Creationists.

    I think it is an issue if someone in an important political position is a Creationist thus both ignorant and anxious about scientific facts and knowledge such as Evolution. Evolution is a central tenet to many fields within science and to deny it, and perhaps even thrust Creationism (I.D.) upon public schools, is a severely regressive position that will hold America back from scientific and social progress while other developed countries in Europe, Britain, Japan and Australia continue to progress unhindered.

    Many religious people seem not to understand that a ‘scientific theory’ is built upon a series of facts and that natural selection is indeed the theory science has proponded over the last 150 years while Evolution itself is indeed a fact.

    Perhaps it would be a good idea if you could send a copy of your book to Huckabee and Romney!

    Thanks.

  33. Please follow this link:
    http://evolutioncreationinrevelation.blogspot.com/

    The message in the link discusses the conflict between believing in mankind creation and evolution.
    The message is for the believers and the nonbelievers; saying that the conflict between the creation of Adam and the evolution of mankind on earth is not necessary.
    Through looking at those verses in Heaven’s revelation which sheds light on the story of the creation of Adam, it is shown that these verses do not close the door in face of believing in evolution. On the contrary, those verses if being looked at from certain perspective, reveals that creation of humans was a process that had a beginning and that beginning was on earth and it went-on through stages.
    In Chapter 32 in Quran, Verses 7-9 glorify the Lord “Who perfected everything He created, and Who ‘started’ mankind creation from ‘mud’ – then He made his breading comes from a bread from despised water (a word that describes semen)(probably referring to mammals) – then He shaped him and breathed into him of His Spirit, and appointed for you hearing and sight and hearts. Small thanks give ye!”
    The words in these verses tell that creation had a start and that start was from mud (the origin of primitive life forms), then after some time, not instantly, there appeared a bread that reproduces by semen which could be mammals, then after some time, not instantly, the creation was fashioned and the Lord breathed into the new creature from His Spirit and gave him those distinct faculties. It is the blow of the spirit from the Lord that made Adam and his descendants different from all other creatures, and made all angles prostrate to Adam obeying the word of God. The verse uses him and his for reference to the creature from the beginning until the moment of blowing the spirit, then the verse switches to using you (Adam descendants).
    In another point in the story, in Chapter 2, Verse 30, the Lord said unto the angels ‘I am about to place a viceroy in the earth’, the angels wondered ‘will you make therein one who do harm and shed blood while we praise you and glorify you!’ , and the answer came ‘Surely I know that which you know not’. The point here is that the angels spoke out their concern that this viceroy will do harm and shed blood in the earth, while according to clear verses in Quran: nobody, including angels, knows what is in the future. It is then understood that the angles predicted the behavior of the viceroy from the wrong doings they are seeing from his ancestors in earth.

    However, this message is a view of its writer who admits that it could be partially or totally incorrect. The purpose of posting this message to the public is to expose the writer’s view to discussion in order to endorse, refine, or refute it.
    The message is written in Arabic, addressing Arab audience who can understand clearly the meaning of the words in the Quran. In Arabic the message presents many other verses from Quran talking about creation while astonishingly leaves the door open for evolution. Translation to other languages is appreciated.