Michael Dowd

C4 asked me to comment on Michael Dowd, the evolutionary Christian evangelico-Pentecostal preacher. (C4 has a post on him here).

Michael has a new book out (Thank God for Evolution) which you can download in pdf format for free. But please if you have the money, donate to Michael and Connie (his wife) as they are true on the road apostles, living out of their van, traveling across the country.

I downloaded the book and read it yesterday (while procrastinating from my thesis due in mid-Jan.).

Personal Disclosure. I’ve never met Michael in person, but we’ve corresponded periodically. He’s been very supportive of what I write here (and elsewhere).

The first thing to say is that the man is obviously doing what God has called him to do. So on one level, I just take it in. He’s aligned and is therefore a great channel for blessing in this world.

The book outlines what he calls his “creatheist” perspective. Dowd is not an Intelligent Design advocate. Nor is he a young earth creationist (though he was in a previous incarnation, after his initial born again experience). Nor is he a “believer” in materialism or a Neo-Darwinian selfish gene-only version of evolution.

His basic belief is that the Creation Story told to us know by modern science is in fact The Great Story. Capital T, capital G. I.e. That frame is the context that transcends and includes all others and that all the religions need to re-imagine themselves in light of The Great Story–which is the 14 billion year story from the Big Bang until right now, and now, and now….

I like how he says he is not just for a watered-down “reconciliation” of faith and science but how the two can inform each other. To science, bringing the sense of mystery, story-telling, narrative, and ritual, meaning-making in other words. To religion, the great gifts of the evolutionary, time-frame view of Creation.

In that sense, with his re-interpretation of say heaven and hell (as states in the present rather than locations after death), Michael is beginning a post-metaphysical turn to Christian faith. He is following in the great tradition of Teilhard Chardin among others.

The greatest achievement, I think, of the book is the work connecting Christian ethics and pastoral practice with neuro-science and evolutionary biology. (Chs. 9, 10 of the book). He re-interprets Original Sin as being born with a reptilian, paleo-mammalian, neo-cortex: what he smartly calls the lizard legacy, Furry Mammal, and monkey mind respectively. These were evolutionary necessities and adaptive advantages for our ancestors but now often become sources of violence, greed, abuse, addiction, shame, and insanity in our world today.

He’s laying down the first tracks of what I think will be a major field in the coming century: bio-theology.

The Original Sin then are these inherent aspects of ourselves that are evolutionary now transcended (but need to be included). Not some mythic actual participation in a rebellion against God that will send us to some location known as hell postmortem unless we are baptized.

In that light, Michael also puts heavy emphasis on integrity and responsibility. He uses an acronym S.T.A.R.S. (self-interest leads to trust [in the universe], then to authenticity, responsibility, and service]. He provides a profound practice for finding one’s vocation: where your deepest desire meets the world’s greatest need.

He also is doing something of a 3-2-1 with the Universe. By going from simply a scientific account (3rd person pov) to a mythic story narrative version (2nd) to identity with the process itself (1st).

As compared to say Wilber’s Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality whose primary myth is of Nonduality (the history of the West as the two broken footnotes to Plato, one ascending only, one descending only), which while I think is the deeper context, I can appreciate not everyone is going to go there and this myth may be a better substitute. [Alternatively you can have alotta people read Wilber and incorrectly think that makes them a mystic realizer]. That’s why I like Andrew Cohen’s work, connecting the Nonduality piece with the Evolutionary Story.

A separate issue, more technical in nature, Michael uses the term “biocracy” which I think is very misleading. I prefer “biomimicry” (which he also uses). If by biocracy is meant taking into consideration the realities of non-human living species when making decisions, that’s cool. But it literally means the rule of the bios, which could easily be interpreted as the rule of the biosphere (over the noosphere), a mistake common in Thomas Berry’s thinking.

The noosphere transcends and includes the biosphere not the other way round. The first manifestation of the theosphere (which transcends and includes noosphere) is the realization of a mutually enhancing human-earth relationship. What Wilber called “Nature-Nation Mysticism”. But a major pre-trans fallacy alert here: pre-industrialized “ecological” humanity and post-industrial ecological (versus modern, industrialized, polluting) both are not ecologically destructive. But they are massively different. Hence the Nation-State part of the formulation. Otherwise environmentalism often becomes anti-humanist, anti-progress.

Bio-mimicry suggests that human minds look to nature and natural creatures and imaginatively come up with ways to solve their problems based on Mother Nature’s solutions. But the imagination leap here is key. Mimicking not slavishly replicating or reducing ourselves to the bios. Not saying Michael is making that mistake, just that I think he could have made that more clear.

Michael makes a distinction between what “public and private” revelation. Public revelation is revealed through science. Public facts about the Universe that can not be refuted. Under the category of private revelation he puts things like the different religious traditions with their own unique interpretations.

But imo this categorization has some flaws. And this is where I think a more Habermas constructivist view would come in (or Wilberian post-metaphysical).

The public revelation of science is not altogether public. Not unless you are hooked into the modern web of communication technologies. Otherwise that science does not in fact “ex-ist” in the mind of others. As Michael admits, he isn’t invited to speak at fundamentalist Christian churches. Also, as he notes, the only way such facts come into such worldviews is by being attributed to the Devil (as he himself once did).

And, to those who participate in mystical communities, the “facts” of the mystical life are quite public. Not private. In fact the public telling of the interpretations shapes the actual “private” experiences of the individuals who take up the practices.

As a myth, it’s beautiful–in the 3-2-1 way as one Great Story though perhaps not THE Great Story I would argue. I like the idea of seeing science as a further, on-going understanding of the Revelation of Creation.

If taken too literally, it’s a reversion to the Myth of the Given. (Though definitely for such Myths, this is about as good as they come I imagine).

That’s just a caution, not so much a criticism.

And as a myth, the story-telling mode, if you can get the kiddies (or adults) around the campfire, state transmission can take over, opening up different avenues whereby some of the constructivism issues can abate (momentarily) I think. But when it comes to the later interpretation and embodiment moments, these issues come back to bear.

But with that (relatively minor) difference in mind, read the book.  It’s a profoundly crucial message.  Thank God indeed.

Published in: on December 23, 2007 at 9:07 pm  Comments (4)  

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  1. Chris,

    thanks for granting my request. i knew i could count on you when it comes to teasing out deep philosophical issues 🙂 i especially like your take on the public vs. private revelation. will keep them in mind.

    that said, i haven’t read the Michael Dowd’s book. i’ll add it to my library soon as i get back to the U.S. i can no longer find the link to the freebie PDF download. but i’m really inclined to make a donation. i applaud their (Michael and Connie) efforts.


  2. […] mentioned the concept of biomimicry in the post on Michael Dowd.  Here is a totally inspiring video on that concept (in relation to design). […]

  3. Chris, thanks for your generous review of my book!

    Viking bought world rights to “Thank God for Evolution” from Council Oak Books (the first publisher) and issued a new (slightly revised) hardcover edition in June. Unfortunately, I can no longer offer the entire book as a free pdf. But the first 50 pages or so are still available as a pdf. This includes the Table of Contents, Author’s Promises, Prologue, Introduction, and Chapter 1.

    In case you’re interested, here’s my most recent blog posts: http://thankgodforevolution.com/category/blog

    Stuart Davis is flying me to Boulder in another month to be interviewed by Ken Wilber for a new TV program they’re doing. Sounds like fun. I’m sure I’ll blog about it afterwards.

    Keep up the great integral work!


    ~ Michael

  4. I stumbled on Michael Dowd’s book last week in the public library. I have to say that it’s been a long time since I read such a persistently sloppy piece of work. Apart from the padding- eighteen chapters can be reduced to eighteen sentences- Dowd’s lack of discipline is most evident in his use of language generally, but especially the “terms of art” that are the stuff of religion. “God” is the Ultimate Reality- everything that is, including the originating impulse. This reality becomes knowing and self-aware in us- that part of it known as human being (and not otherwise). And yet it is alleged to “accept” us. This is anthropmorphism on the grandest scale. A person who prays is said to enter into “deep communion” with Ultimate Reality. This is complete nonsense. Call it reflection if you will- call it meditation even- but don’t call it prayer. To use a thought from the late Steven Jay Gould, Dowd’s major, constant- and irritating-error is to borrow the language of one magisterium (religion) to speak about another (science). He does this freely and inconsistently. It’s completely unnecessary and it’s as misleading as it is confusing. Dowd in not a theist in any sense of that “term of art”. He’s a hippie. He’s a hippie with a product to flog to that particularly wierd market that is American religion.

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