Rev. Michael Dowd: Thank God For Evolution

August 15, 2008

The Reverend Michael Dowd, along with his wife, science writer Connie Barlow, have lived permanently on the road for years, sharing a "sacred view of evolution" with religious and secular audiences of all ages. His new book is Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World.

In this interview with D.J. Grothe, Michael Dowd discusses his new book Thank God for Evolution, which is a religious defense of the central organizing theory of modern biology. He reveals the agenda of the book, and the reception it has received from both the scientific and the religious communities. He explains his religious background, and how he has adopted a thoroughly "naturalized" religion that he calls "Religion 2.0," compatible with and integrated with evolution, which rejects the supernatural or the "unnatural." He details why he has become an "evangelist for evolution" and why the "gospel of evolution" has been so popular for both the religious and the secular audiences he has spoken to over the last six and a half years. He expounds his "evolution theology," and how the traditionally religious can embrace the facts of evolution, which he considers the most important religious act they can commit.

Books Mentioned in This Episode:


Related Episodes

Dr. Francis Collins - The Language of God
August 31, 2007

Comments from the CFI Forums

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Posted on Aug 15, 2008 at 3:19pm by jholt Comment #1

Listening to this, I understand that Rev. Dowd seems to be describing his point of view as pantheism, and I can’t grasp what the point of it is.  If the universe is god is the metaphor, then doesn’t god lose all meaning?  My impression is that he’s really an atheist, but he can’t seem to admit it.  An impersonal and unknowable god seems like no god at all, at least from a teleological point of view.

Posted on Aug 15, 2008 at 7:33pm by mandydax Comment #2

after hearing this whole interview, it sounds like this guy is trying to convert atheists to christianity or some sort of religiosity subtly

The bottom line is this - give evidence for a supernatural entity or zip it.

I don’t care for the blending of spirituality and the actual world. - I don’t even think the word spiritual has any meaning whatsoever.  This is a lot of hot air.

I would have trouble even communicating with this person.  I am ultimately a materialist.  His vocabulary is murky or unclear and dilluted with religious terminology.  It’s irritating.

HOW is this man a reverend? - HOW?  he says “facts are god’s native tongue” - uh so there IS a supernatural entity who made the universe- is THAT how he is a reverend? - if so then no thx, I don’t believe in supernatural entities like ghosts, faeries, spirits, demons, or invisible people with magic powers I just don’t and somehow he’s trying to use religious lingo to spout out science -

I remember people calling Richard Dawkins the high priest of evolution - and it made me irritated - well this guy is full of it - thx but the empirical facts and the rule of parsimony say not to posit additionals unnecessarily and this guy is all over the place -

I’d never buy his book and I hope it does poorly lool-

incidentally my cat is a member of the universal life church - an ordained minister too - mabye he should write or scratch out a book - i bet it would be more interesting

Posted on Aug 15, 2008 at 10:02pm by robotaholic Comment #3

Why exactly did DJ suggest that Dowd was “Christian-lite”? Though I personally happen to reject any particular conception (even more abstract or earthy ones) of God, the Divine, Ultimate Reality, or whatever, I also reject the practice of the so-called “new atheists” to define Christianity and the religions in only the most narrow, fundamentalist terms. This is an occurrence I have often encountered in discussions, atheists and agnostics telling Christians that they’re not really Christians because they don’t believe in A, B, and C.

Shouldn’t the Christian be able to define for his or individual self what exactly it is to be a Christian?

I understand that DJ was originally Christian himself, but frankly I find it a bit arrogant that he would suggest that the particular form or thought process of the Christianity he belonged to is the ONLY form of authentic Christianity. Many fundamentalists, for instance, regard Catholicism as a kind of distorted version of the Christian faith, if they even regard it as being Christian at all. If we’re looking only to Christian fundamentalists for our definition of Christianity, then shouldn’t we then leave out things like the Inquisition, Crusades, etc. when criticizing the Christian religion? After all, according to the fundamentalists, Catholicism is barely Christianity at all. Do the new atheists agree?

Catholicism, which is the largest denomination of Christianity, also teaches (however wrongly) that there is no inherent contradiction between evolutionary theory and the Christian faith, which is why you have a Catholic like Dr. Kenneth Miller providing damning testimony against ID at Dover and co-authoring the high school textbook for biology, or a Catholic like Francisco Ayala spending time as president of the AAAS and being awarded the National Medal of Science. Interestingly enough, something so important to science as Big Bang theory itself can be traced back to the “hypothesis of the primeval atom,” proposed by none other than a Catholic astrophysicist, Fr. Georges Lemaître (who eventually served at the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences). According to the way many of my fellow atheists define Christianity, these people aren’t real Christians at all since they don’t accept a literal reading of Genesis, one of the staples of true Christianity. Yet, their church says they don’t have to. Is then Catholicism itself Christian-lite, and only Protestantism actual Christianity?

Hey, but wait. Biblical criticism had its advent in the Lutheran church, so literalism is obviously not a given there. What about the Episcopal Church? Isn’t their presiding bishop, Katherine Schori, a marine biologist? Are those another two churches gone Christian-lite?

The way I see it, I as a non-believer have no business questioning the sincerity of faith of any Christian. A great example of the nonsense of such a practice is Sam Harris, who on pg. 21 of “The End of Faith” accuses religious moderates of “scriptural ignorance” (something repeated in Susan Jacoby’s otherwise excellent “The Age of American Unreason”). He, a neuroscientist in training, is in effect claiming to be more aware of authentic Biblical teachings than somebody like John Dominic Crossan, a Biblical scholar, and [like most serious Biblical scholars and theologians] a moderate, who was educated at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem. Sorry, but I think that’s just nuts.

Fact is, Christians who accept evolutionary biology as fact and shape their Christianity accordingly aren’t doing anything different than what Augustine and the other church fathers did when they Hellenized the Christian faith to make it more acceptable to the world of their time. Their way of understanding and explaining the Christian faith was distinctly Greek, not Jewish. Indeed, all of the most hollowed of Christians dogmas, such as the Trinity, two natures of Christ, etc. were fashioned in a Greek philosophical vocabulary which earlier Christian Jews wouldn’t have recognized at all. What Dowd is doing, then, actually seems to be very much in line with Christian tradition, and not that radical at all.

Incidentally, not even Augustine advocated a literal reading of Genesis. Guess he was just as “Christian-lite” as all the rest.

Posted on Aug 15, 2008 at 11:41pm by AndChomskyMakesThree Comment #4

mandydax,

Dowd is more likely a panentheist, as a number of the clergy and theologians who have praised his book (Matthew Fox for example) are well know for holding what they call a panentheistic view of “God.” From what I’ve heard, panentheism is a growing trend among Christian theologians. I found the following quotes from Professor of Religion and Jesus Scholar, Marcus Borg, online at mysticalseeker.blogspot.com

He speaks about panentheism as follows:

The first conceptualizes God as a supernatural being “out there”, separate from the world, who created the world a long time ago and who may from time to time intervene within it. In an important sense, this God is not “here” and thus cannot be known or experienced but only believed in (which, within the logic of this concept, is what “faith” is about.) I will call this way of thinking about God “supernatural theism.” Widespread within Christianity, it is perhaps what a majority of people (both believers and non-believers) think of when they think of God. Some accept the existence of such a being, and some reject it. But it is the notion of God as a supernatural being “out there” that is being accepted or rejected.

The second root concept of God in the Christian tradition thinks of God quite differently. God is the encompassing Spirit; we (and everything that is) are in God. For this concept, God is not a supernatural being separate from the universe; rather, God (the sacred, the Spirit) is a nonmaterial layer or level or dimension of reality all around us. God is more than the universe, yet the universe is in God. Thus, in a spatial sense, God is not “somewhere else” but “right here.” I will call this concept of God “panentheism”.

Pantheism lacks the extra syllable en, which makes all the difference. Pantheism (without the en) identifies the universe with God: God and the universe are coextensive (literally, “everything is God”). Pantheism affirms only God’s immanence and essentially denies God’s transcendence; though the sacred is present in everything, it is not more than everything. But panentheism affirms both transcendence (God’s otherness or moreness) and immanence (God’s presence). God is not to be identified with the sum total of things. Rather, God is more than everything, even as God is present everywhere. God is all around us and within us, and we are within God.

Posted on Aug 16, 2008 at 12:00am by AndChomskyMakesThree Comment #5

Good discussion.  I sure enjoyed my interview with D.J.!  For those interested, I was interviewed a month and a half ago by Reggie, The Infidel Guy—also a wonderful experience.  D.J. and Reggie are two of my favorite atheist interviewers.  Both the audio and video of The Infidel Guy interview can be accessed here: http://thankgodforevolution.com/audiovideo 

AndChomskyMakesThree is correct: I’m essentially doing what theologians have always done: revised religious worldviews in light of the best understandings of reality available when they were alive. And yes, I’m sort of a panentheist, though I much prefer the term “creatheist” - which can be pronounced “Cree-ATHEIST” or “Cree-a-THEIST” (I discuss this concept in chapter 7 of my book, “Thank God for Evolution”, where I also distinguish it from pantheism and panentheism.)

Just this morning I posted a response to Michael J. Booker’s mixed review of my book (mentioned above). It addresses the most common misunderstandings that atheists and humanists make about the Evolution Theology perspective I offer in my book and my programs.  Here’s the link: http://thankgodforevolution.com/node/1134

Co-evolutionarily,

~ Michael

Posted on Aug 16, 2008 at 7:41am by Michael Dowd Comment #6

It should also be said that this interview is only Part 1. D.J.‘s interview with Dowd was so long and wide-ranging, that I decided to cut it into two parts. Part 2 will be next week. Cheers, Thomas

Posted on Aug 16, 2008 at 8:15am by Thomas Donnelly Comment #7

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Posted on Aug 16, 2008 at 9:11am by jholt Comment #8

It should also be said that this interview is only Part 1. D.J.‘s interview with Dowd was so long and wide-ranging, that I decided to cut it into two parts. Part 2 will be next week. Cheers, Thomas

Thanks very much for the high quality of the audios.  I just finished this podcast and I think D.J. did another great job.

If I understood things correctly from the podcast,  Dowd’s position reminds me of the books by John Shelby Spong, in that Spong gradually over the books he wrote clearly articulated a view that the Bible was not literally true—and yet he saw a need for religion in our current world. 

This transition from a literal Christian church to a symbolic/metaphorical Christian church is curious since the same scriptures and prayers continue to be used.

Posted on Aug 16, 2008 at 11:48am by Jackson Comment #9

Thanks very much for the high quality of the audios.  I just finished this podcast and I think D.J. did another great job.

If I understood things correctly from the podcast,  Dowd’s position reminds me of the books by John Shelby Spong, in that Spong gradually over the books he wrote clearly articulated a view that the Bible was not literally true—and yet he saw a need for religion in our current world. 

This transition from a literal Christian church to a symbolic/metaphorical Christian church is curious since the same scriptures and prayers continue to be used.

Could one create a new religion based on morality rather than magic? After all, if Scientology can be a religion, surely anything can.

Posted on Aug 16, 2008 at 12:48pm by A Voice of Sanity Comment #10

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Posted on Aug 16, 2008 at 12:49pm by jholt Comment #11

Whenever I run into the evolution as fact, theory and a mixture therein, it’s always been in some way a response to creationist. .... Is the debate really mainly about confronting creationist? If this is true, then I surely side with Gould on this particular point. Disbanding such a word as theory[of ENS) to simply place evolution by natural selection in bolder form to mitigate creationist attack is without merit as far as I understand the issue.

Don’t all these arguments come down to evidence? The creationists can’t believe that the complexity of life can come about by natural processes and the rest of us can. Until and unless they can come up with actual evidence their arguments are moot.

For all I know there is an army of fiendish white mice circling Mars in invisible interstellar pink teapots, planning their invasion of Earth. However barring some actual evidence of this I don’t see myself spending any time worrying about it, nor contributing to the Earth Defense Fund to prevent it.

Posted on Aug 16, 2008 at 1:13pm by A Voice of Sanity Comment #12

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Posted on Aug 16, 2008 at 2:28pm by jholt Comment #13

I was confused by the description of the podcast and thought I would understand the Rev and topic better after a listen. I was wrong.
I really do not know what he and his wife the traveling Evolutionary Church are about. Dowd seems to suggest in the discussion we can never, ever get away from “night terms” like faith and spiritual so we are obliged to dress up science in mystical garb so that the uneducatable teeming masses will accept the facts? Really? Wow. Dark, cynical. No wonder you call them night words.

Also as noted elsewhere there does seem to be a current of “evolution is great, learn its rules, follow its example” so that we can survive. ‘cept that we know evolution were it ranked in a moral way is at least as bad as it is good… an amoral destroyer of countless species… a designer who set up endless bloody, brutal, horrific warfare between predator and prey to last millions of years. ie natural = good.

We, we humans, do not need religion. We do not need quasi-religious science. We do not need mystical mumbojumbo no matter what it describes or refers to.
We do not need to worship anything- science, facts or otherwise.
We need you to buy a house without wheels and stop.

Posted on Aug 17, 2008 at 11:29am by sate Comment #14

... Also as noted elsewhere there does seem to be a current of “evolution is great, learn its rules, follow its example” so that we can survive. ‘cept that we know evolution were it ranked in a moral way is at least as bad as it is good… an amoral destroyer of countless species… a designer who set up endless bloody, brutal, horrific warfare between predator and prey to last millions of years. ie natural = good. ...

Humans are the anti evolutionary species. We inoculate ourselves to prevent natural selection for disease resistance, and we do much, much more.
And then we invented war. We should, by rights, be selecting for ‘war resistance’ (not the political variety).

Posted on Aug 17, 2008 at 12:06pm by A Voice of Sanity Comment #15

Another great idea how to sell books and make money.

Posted on Aug 18, 2008 at 8:08am by George Comment #16

Humans are the anti evolutionary species. We inoculate ourselves to prevent natural selection for disease resistance, and we do much, much more.
And then we invented war. We should, by rights, be selecting for ‘war resistance’ (not the political variety).

I am not sure this is so. It could be argued that innoculating ourselves IS disease resistance. Consider polio..humanity has not been made more vulnerable to polio because polio has essentially been wiped from the face of the planet. I don’t care how you keep score, polio did not win.
Supporting a policy whereby “unfit”(lets say blind or diabetic) individuals survive means the odds of the survival of my genes, on average, go up because there’s a random chance I will be “unfit” or that my children will be. An additional selective benefit of this information age is that some blind, diabetic, or immunodeficient person could cure blindness, diabetes, or aids resulting in my survival or that of my offspring.

As far as war… well that’s merely an advanced, systematized form of violence that is nowhere more typical than in “nature”. Man did not invent violence and brutality.. he invented something far more precious..  sadness and horror in response to it.
(with perhaps some level of exception for some higher mammals)

Posted on Aug 18, 2008 at 8:13am by sate Comment #17

... Also as noted elsewhere there does seem to be a current of “evolution is great, learn its rules, follow its example” so that we can survive. ‘cept that we know evolution were it ranked in a moral way is at least as bad as it is good… an amoral destroyer of countless species… a designer who set up endless bloody, brutal, horrific warfare between predator and prey to last millions of years. ie natural = good. ...

Humans are the anti evolutionary species. We inoculate ourselves to prevent natural selection for disease resistance, and we do much, much more.
And then we invented war. We should, by rights, be selecting for ‘war resistance’ (not the political variety).

Saying that evolution is great and we should follow its example is like saying cancer is great, we should learn by example.

Evolution is more about the species that die off than the species that survive. Dodging bullets is nearly impossible.

And human beings are hardly anti-evolutionary. We, just like every species, have developed our own ways of fighting disease and controlling populations. It is a truism that a characteristic that is adaptive in one context is maladaptive in another. Allergies arise from an overly effective immune system. Wars arise from deficiencies in food, water, sexual partners, etc. (and community leaders’ attempts to manage such shortages). We’re a social species, so it makes sense that we don’t just kill our nest-mates, as do many birds and mammals, but as a group attempt to murder another group that “threatens” us (or rather, threatens our leaders).

Posted on Aug 19, 2008 at 5:31am by NH Baritone Comment #18

Saying that evolution is great and we should follow its example is like saying cancer is great, we should learn by example.

Evolution is more about the species that die off than the species that survive. Dodging bullets is nearly impossible.

And human beings are hardly anti-evolutionary. We, just like every species, have developed our own ways of fighting disease and controlling populations. It is a truism that a characteristic that is adaptive in one context is maladaptive in another. Allergies arise from an overly effective immune system. Wars arise from deficiencies in food, water, sexual partners, etc. (and community leaders’ attempts to manage such shortages). We’re a social species, so it makes sense that we don’t just kill our nest-mates, as do many birds and mammals, but as a group attempt to murder another group that “threatens” us (or rather, threatens our leaders).

They have found examples of human skeletons several thousands of years old with defects like spina bifida or serious injuries. In animals these would quickly lead to death but humans have cared for each other enough to save lives. This does, of course, allow for reproduction which would not occur in animals.

Posted on Aug 19, 2008 at 9:59am by A Voice of Sanity Comment #19

Saying that evolution is great and we should follow its example is like saying cancer is great, we should learn by example.

Evolution is more about the species that die off than the species that survive. Dodging bullets is nearly impossible.

And human beings are hardly anti-evolutionary. We, just like every species, have developed our own ways of fighting disease and controlling populations. It is a truism that a characteristic that is adaptive in one context is maladaptive in another. Allergies arise from an overly effective immune system. Wars arise from deficiencies in food, water, sexual partners, etc. (and community leaders’ attempts to manage such shortages). We’re a social species, so it makes sense that we don’t just kill our nest-mates, as do many birds and mammals, but as a group attempt to murder another group that “threatens” us (or rather, threatens our leaders).

They have found examples of human skeletons several thousands of years old with defects like spina bifida or serious injuries. In animals these would quickly lead to death but humans have cared for each other enough to save lives. This does, of course, allow for reproduction which would not occur in animals.

I think you misunderstand evolution. The fact that a species continues to survive is testimony that it has adapted. Perhaps human caring has spread to compassion for ill individuals, but that is simply an artifact of the community spirit that originally allowed us to survive against predators, hunt large beasts that would feed an entire village, and build languages to impart information across generations.

Just because an instinctual behavior or characteristic can have alternative outcomes does not make it contra-evolutionary. It simply means that some things that aid in adaptation can be used in a variety of ways. (For example, because a canine instinctively chases small animals, they can also play fetch. The same basic activity feeds them in one context and builds a social bond in another.)

Posted on Aug 19, 2008 at 7:16pm by NH Baritone Comment #20

I think you misunderstand evolution. The fact that a species continues to survive is testimony that it has adapted. Perhaps human caring has spread to compassion for ill individuals, but that is simply an artifact of the community spirit that originally allowed us to survive against predators, hunt large beasts that would feed an entire village, and build languages to impart information across generations.

Just because an instinctual behavior or characteristic can have alternative outcomes does not make it contra-evolutionary. It simply means that some things that aid in adaptation can be used in a variety of ways. (For example, because a canine instinctively chases small animals, they can also play fetch. The same basic activity feeds them in one context and builds a social bond in another.)

If we adapted by evolution, we would develop a resistance to diseases like polio, AIDS and the like. Instead we search for and sometimes find ways to prevent the diseases from occurring. This is a different response than evolution.

Posted on Aug 19, 2008 at 7:33pm by A Voice of Sanity Comment #21

I think you misunderstand evolution. The fact that a species continues to survive is testimony that it has adapted. Perhaps human caring has spread to compassion for ill individuals, but that is simply an artifact of the community spirit that originally allowed us to survive against predators, hunt large beasts that would feed an entire village, and build languages to impart information across generations.

Just because an instinctual behavior or characteristic can have alternative outcomes does not make it contra-evolutionary. It simply means that some things that aid in adaptation can be used in a variety of ways. (For example, because a canine instinctively chases small animals, they can also play fetch. The same basic activity feeds them in one context and builds a social bond in another.)

If we adapted by evolution, we would develop a resistance to diseases like polio, AIDS and the like. Instead we search for and sometimes find ways to prevent the diseases from occurring. This is a different response than evolution.

Again, you have an entirely too small view of evolution. Our intelligence is an evolutionary advantage to fight off such diseases, in just the same way that a skunk’s scent is an advantage for it to fight off my Golden Retriever. You’re argument is engaging is special pleading, that somehow evolution stops when it involves intelligent problem solving. If you define intelligence out of evolution, you define humanity out of nature. And quite frankly, that is nonsense.

Posted on Aug 19, 2008 at 8:24pm by NH Baritone Comment #22

AVOC while we are creating new vaccines and antibiotics to combat these diseases, they continue their evolution to survive as well. Life dances with many partners! Or look at it as a chess game, we make a move, create a new antibiotic, the organism makes a move to develop resistance. It’s all evolution!

Posted on Aug 19, 2008 at 8:56pm by asanta Comment #23

Again, you have an entirely too small view of evolution. Our intelligence is an evolutionary advantage to fight off such diseases, in just the same way that a skunk’s scent is an advantage for it to fight off my Golden Retriever. You’re argument is engaging is special pleading, that somehow evolution stops when it involves intelligent problem solving. If you define intelligence out of evolution, you define humanity out of nature. And quite frankly, that is nonsense.

We are different from the other creatures. Note that we even develop treatments for our animals, domestic and domesticated. I’m merely pointing out the difference between intelligence and knowledge and the means to record it; and the sort of learning some mammals impart to their offspring or inherit from their parents.
There is a qualitative difference between us and the rest of species, and how we deal with diseases.

Posted on Aug 19, 2008 at 9:14pm by A Voice of Sanity Comment #24

Again, you have an entirely too small view of evolution. Our intelligence is an evolutionary advantage to fight off such diseases, in just the same way that a skunk’s scent is an advantage for it to fight off my Golden Retriever. You’re argument is engaging is special pleading, that somehow evolution stops when it involves intelligent problem solving. If you define intelligence out of evolution, you define humanity out of nature. And quite frankly, that is nonsense.

We are different from the other creatures. Note that we even develop treatments for our animals, domestic and domesticated. I’m merely pointing out the difference between intelligence and knowledge and the means to record it; and the sort of learning some mammals impart to their offspring or inherit from their parents.
There is a qualitative difference between us and the rest of species, and how we deal with diseases.

... in the same way that there is a qualitative difference between bacteria, maggots, and pumas consume a corpse, a qualitative difference between how giraffes reach the leaves they eat and how how monkeys reach the leaves they eat, a qualitative difference between how marsupials are born & suckled and how other mammals are born and suckled.

Every creature must adapt to its environment in order to effectively produce later generations. Humans have done so amazingly well, but all we need to throw a kink into that hose is a meteor of sufficient size, a warrior whose ambition & firepower overwhelm his judgment, or a virus whose destructive power is matched by its ability to evade detection and treatment. (The only reason HIV has not risen to that level is that it remains relatively difficult to contract. We would not have been so lucky if it ever developed the capacity to be airborne.)

Every creature that survives has beaten nature’s blunt instruments of destruction, but only for now.

Posted on Aug 20, 2008 at 4:39am by NH Baritone Comment #25

... Every creature must adapt to its environment in order to effectively produce later generations. Humans have done so amazingly well, but all we need to throw a kink into that hose is a meteor of sufficient size, a warrior whose ambition & firepower overwhelm his judgment, or a virus whose destructive power is matched by its ability to evade detection and treatment. (The only reason HIV has not risen to that level is that it remains relatively difficult to contract. We would not have been so lucky if it ever developed the capacity to be airborne.)

Every creature that survives has beaten nature’s blunt instruments of destruction, but only for now.

You’ve just proved my point. If a disease like airborne HIV was attacking, say, wildebeest, those with no resistance would all die out. If it was attacking humans we would learn about it, communicate to each other and, failing a better method, would start to use masks or other methods to protect ourselves. Even in the days of the Black Plague and the like people knew enough to flee, although not enough to make the best decisions about it. We are different.

Posted on Aug 20, 2008 at 10:18am by A Voice of Sanity Comment #26

I don’t get it.  I understand the intent, but I don’t understand the scaffold on which the intent is built.  Seems like a lot of slight of hand to me.  The emperor’s new clothes may be cut from cloth that is real, but in this context, the clothes are still ..... well, invisible!

Posted on Aug 22, 2008 at 6:24pm by Strubie Comment #27

... Every creature must adapt to its environment in order to effectively produce later generations. Humans have done so amazingly well, but all we need to throw a kink into that hose is a meteor of sufficient size, a warrior whose ambition & firepower overwhelm his judgment, or a virus whose destructive power is matched by its ability to evade detection and treatment. (The only reason HIV has not risen to that level is that it remains relatively difficult to contract. We would not have been so lucky if it ever developed the capacity to be airborne.)

Every creature that survives has beaten nature’s blunt instruments of destruction, but only for now.

You’ve just proved my point. If a disease like airborne HIV was attacking, say, wildebeest, those with no resistance would all die out. If it was attacking humans we would learn about it, communicate to each other and, failing a better method, would start to use masks or other methods to protect ourselves. Even in the days of the Black Plague and the like people knew enough to flee, although not enough to make the best decisions about it. We are different.

Animals also change behaviors to adapt to diseases in their environment. Wild dogs did not die out from distemper, or rabies which are invariably fatal. Chimpanzees are also susceptible to Ebola, they are still around. Sure, they can’t manufacture antibiotics or antivirals, but they do change their behaviors to adapt as we do. Antibiotics give us another weapon, but so much more disease can be stopped by just and improvement in hygienic conditions, and antibiotics don’t always save us from even the most mundane of diseases. Jim Henson died of pneumonia as a rather young man—a nasty pneumonia that you would have had no reason to believe he would ever acquire and medication could not stop.

Posted on Aug 22, 2008 at 6:41pm by asanta Comment #28

Jim Henson died of pneumonia as a rather young man—a nasty pneumonia that you would have had no reason to believe he would ever acquire and medication could not stop.

Didn’t he fail to avail himself of good medical care?

On May 12, 1990, Henson traveled to Ahoskie, North Carolina with his daughter Cheryl to visit his father and stepmother. The next day, feeling tired and sick, he consulted a physician in North Carolina, who could find no evidence of pneumonia by physical examination and prescribed no treatment except aspirin. Henson returned to New York on an earlier flight and canceled a Muppet recording session scheduled for May 14.

Henson’s wife Jane, from whom he was separated, came to visit and sat with him talking throughout the evening. By 2 a.m. on May 15, 1990 he was having trouble breathing and began coughing up blood. He suggested to Jane that he might be dying, but did not want to bother going to the hospital. She later told People Magazine that it was likely due to his desire not to be a bother to people.

At 4 a.m., he finally agreed to go to New York Hospital, at which point his body was rapidly shutting down. By the time he was admitted at 4:58 a.m., he could no longer breathe on his own and had abscesses in his lungs. He was placed on a mechanical ventilator to help him breathe, but his condition deteriorated rapidly into septic shock despite aggressive treatment with multiple antibiotics. Only twenty hours later, on May 16, 1990, at 12:58 a.m., Henson died from organ failure at the age of 53.

Posted on Aug 22, 2008 at 7:20pm by A Voice of Sanity Comment #29

Part 2 - Rev. Michael Dowd: Thank God For Evolution

I haven’t seen a new thread started, but I just listened and had a few thoughts.

I found this to be an extremely interesting conversation.

I suppose my first question would be; if we take the argument for the importance of communicating the fact and theories of evolution, then by extension the understanding that humans are story telling animals - as a twain component then to incorporate a co-evolutionary insight - is there not a danger when creating a more factual interpretation, to relate in a deep way thus provide real world consequence while retaining the recognized capacity to ‘tell stories to teach’ -  of forwarding this idea from what sounds like a purely Christianized perspective? What I mean, by providing the language of one belief system to incorporate these insights, are we not asking for others who do not interpret the world this way to find another reason to question evolution? Given the fact that the largest segment in U.S. that does not accept evolution by natural selection is Christian, and the personal beliefs of the Rev., this may be an inconsequential question.

I was a bit surprised that Dawkins allowed that letter to be published in the book. Here’s why, without going into a complete comparison and taking large chunks of how he thinks on the issue, let me offer an example. When the respected scientist, evolutionary biologist, Joan Roughgarden presented her ideas that she highlights in her book, Evolution and Christian Faith: Reflections of an Evolutionary Biologist, which were essentially to take Biblical myth stories and relate them in a way for those who share her faith tradition to better come to grips with and accept evolution - Richard reacted with a fair amount of disdain (nearly mocking the enterprise - this was at Beyond Belief ‘06). His point basically was, as he said; “Why bother”, the science speaks perfectly well for itself. I will admit that I am sometimes confused by Richard’s position in some respects on this issue. For example he will recommend Kenneth Miller’s book, Finding Darwin’s God, to certain creationist.

I think part of my confusion to the above issue is do to how we take certain perspective in a larger context. For example, even though Richard would do the above, I have not come into contact with criticism going back and forth, due to Sam Harris saying; “There is no question but that nominally religious scientists like Francis Collins and Kenneth R. Miller are doing lasting harm to our discourse by the accommodations they have made to religious irrationality.” Now, I realize we are talking about different people, but, and a large but I think, what Sam is saying in the larger context of religion is diametrically apposed to what Richard does. Am I wrong? To further extrapolate than, I would surmise that Harris would have the same tone towards Dowd’s book. It would almost seem to me that what Harris does on some occasions is to say we must accept their (the religious) rules to engage in the battle. In this way then it is to state that since the religious do not accept certain principles that the discourse then must accept that the religious hold one overarching truth and thus the only way to engage is a bottom down approach. Thus a blurred line becomes evident when in moral debate, where the belief is that a structure must be mainly dismantled in order to see real change in morality. The problem then becomes, as in criticisms Sam has leveled towards secular scientist and the religious scientist alike, that some of his targets take much of the same moral stand, such as in Collins’ forwarding of not only evolution, but stem cell research. The dialogue then that must be engaged starts from a position of either or, when in fact it appears quite different. This leads inevitably in my opinion to a side debate about “appeasement”. The appeasement debate is problematic only in that it paints a stark picture without the subtleties we find, such as Richard’s and Collins’ stand. (I am in no way drawing anyone here in a painted corner, only expressing what I see and using example).

To further the above point, we have seen many people lately defining certain religious language in rational naturalistic terms (such as Harris in that he forwards words such as mysticism and spirituality - he is then in his way creating a narrative by admitting the usefulness of such terms). Daniel Dennett has done this with the word soul, by redefining the term in light of scientific discovery, he to is creating a narrative. To take the word God, Stuart Kauffman seems to be forwarding an idea that sounds like what Dowd is saying, but eliminating all context to a ‘supernatural’. But, here we find Shermer and Harris in an agreement in that the criticism here is that even though this may sound good, the term God is so connected to religion that the enterprise is in trouble from the start. My response to this (but not a statement of disagreement entirely) is that; so what? Shermer and Harris will redefine certain terms that are laden with religious meaning, but not the big one….

The Rev. brought up Robert Wright and E. O. Wilson which reminded me of this conversation between the two - HERE - they touch very much on issues brought up by Michael.

Posted on Aug 23, 2008 at 4:53am by jholt Comment #30

Part 2 - Rev. Michael Dowd: Thank God For Evolution

I haven’t seen a new thread started, but I just listened and had a few thoughts.

I found this to be an extremely interesting conversation.

I suppose my first question would be; if we take the argument for the importance of communicating the fact and theories of evolution, then by extension the understanding that humans are story telling animals - as a twain component then to incorporate a co-evolutionary insight - is there not a danger when creating a more factual interpretation, to relate in a deep way thus provide real world consequence while retaining the recognized capacity to ‘tell stories to teach’ -  of forwarding this idea from what sounds like a purely Christianized perspective? What I mean, by providing the language of one belief system to incorporate these insights, are we not asking for others who do not interpret the world this way to find another reason to question evolution? Given the fact that the largest segment in U.S. that does not accept evolution by natural selection is Christian, and the personal beliefs of the Rev., this may be an inconsequential question.

I was a bit surprised that Dawkins allowed that letter to be published in the book. Here’s why, without going into a complete comparison and taking large chunks of how he thinks on the issue, let me offer an example. When the respected scientist, evolutionary biologist, Joan Roughgarden presented her ideas that she highlights in her book, Evolution and Christian Faith: Reflections of an Evolutionary Biologist, which were essentially to take Biblical myth stories and relate them in a way for those who share her faith tradition to better come to grips with and accept evolution - Richard reacted with a fair amount of disdain (nearly mocking the enterprise - this was at Beyond Belief ‘06). His point basically was, as he said; “Why bother”, the science speaks perfectly well for itself. I will admit that I am sometimes confused by Richard’s position in some respects on this issue. For example he will recommend Kenneth Miller’s book, Finding Darwin’s God, to certain creationist.

I think part of my confusion to the above issue is do to how we take certain perspective in a larger context. For example, even though Richard would do the above, I have not come into contact with criticism going back and forth, due to Sam Harris saying; “There is no question but that nominally religious scientists like Francis Collins and Kenneth R. Miller are doing lasting harm to our discourse by the accommodations they have made to religious irrationality.” Now, I realize we are talking about different people, but, and a large but I think, what Sam is saying in the larger context of religion is diametrically apposed to what Richard does. Am I wrong? To further extrapolate than, I would surmise that Harris would have the same tone towards Dowd’s book. It would almost seem to me that what Harris does on some occasions is to say we must accept their (the religious) rules to engage in the battle. In this way then it is to state that since the religious do not accept certain principles that the discourse then must accept that the religious hold one overarching truth and thus the only way to engage is a bottom down approach. Thus a blurred line becomes evident when in moral debate, where the belief is that a structure must be mainly dismantled in order to see real change in morality. The problem then becomes, as in criticisms Sam has leveled towards secular scientist and the religious scientist alike, that some of his targets take much of the same moral stand, such as in Collins’ forwarding of not only evolution, but stem cell research. The dialogue then that must be engaged starts from a position of either or, when in fact it appears quite different. This leads inevitably in my opinion to a side debate about “appeasement”. The appeasement debate is problematic only in that it paints a stark picture without the subtleties we find, such as Richard’s and Collins’ stand. (I am in no way drawing anyone here in a painted corner, only expressing what I see and using example).

To further the above point, we have seen many people lately defining certain religious language in rational naturalistic terms (such as Harris in that he forwards words such as mysticism and spirituality - he is then in his way creating a narrative by admitting the usefulness of such terms). Daniel Dennett has done this with the word soul, by redefining the term in light of scientific discovery, he to is creating a narrative. To take the word God, Stuart Kauffman seems to be forwarding an idea that sounds like what Dowd is saying, but eliminating all context to a ‘supernatural’. But, here we find Shermer and Harris in an agreement in that the criticism here is that even though this may sound good, the term God is so connected to religion that the enterprise is in trouble from the start. My response to this (but not a statement of disagreement entirely) is that; so what? Shermer and Harris will redefine certain terms that are laden with religious meaning, but not the big one….

The Rev. brought up Robert Wright and E. O. Wilson which reminded me of this conversation between the two - HERE - they touch very much on issues brought up by Michael.

Good points. http://www.centerforinquiry.net/forums/viewthread/4519/#46236

Posted on Aug 23, 2008 at 5:00am by Jackson Comment #31

It’s difficult for me not to see both VOS and Michael Dowd as engaging in a semantic flim-flam.

They (sneakily? naively?) define terms in non-traditional ways (such as VOS’ defining intellect out of evolutionary adaptation or Dowd’s attempts to weave evolution into religious language). In so doing, they risk infecting the enterprise of scientific inquiry with subtly desired outcomes. This infuses the process with a need for a particular answer that can give us meaning, and at the same time can prevent us from accurately describing nature. The Church’s similarly anthropocentric needs got Galileo confined to quarters for the last decade of his life. He resisted joining the hierarchy in seeing the earth as more special than any other heavenly body. (It is only special to us humans because it’s our home.)

It seems to me that Dowd’s and VOS’ description of humanity is the same as religion’s. When we lean on the outcomes from science to verify our sense of meaning, we cease to engage in science, and instead simply look to nature for proof-texting.

Posted on Aug 23, 2008 at 5:25am by NH Baritone Comment #32

My wish would be to see Tom Flynn respond to the podcast (I saw his name pop up in the member list - Norm Allen also would have something interesting to say I’m sure).

Posted on Aug 23, 2008 at 6:01am by jholt Comment #33

It’s difficult for me not to see both VOS and Michael Dowd as engaging in a semantic flim-flam.

This seems like a criticism - but I don’t follow your logic.

Posted on Aug 23, 2008 at 8:03am by A Voice of Sanity Comment #34

he can’t even admit that christianity is immature - “too much baggage” - he also said something similar to evolution is “random chance” - i can’t stand this person’s message!- there is no good evidence for the supernatural nor to dress up my existence in religious language-

“a way to interpret science in traditional spiritual language” - I DON’T get that argument -

“god is communicating today just as real as in bilical times” - i think he let it slip that he believes in the bible literally-

“the nested nature of creativity” = god or ultimate reality - uh ??? what??

-the more this man explains his position - the LESSS i understand

this man is completely a mess- and lives like an evangelist…out of people’s homes

“common sacred story” ?? that would be evolution and I don’t think sacred has any meaning at all
“validates scientic and religious ways of speaking” - something is either true or false not both and when religious ways of thinking contradict the science, i’ll take the science thx-

<sighs>

ENOUGH!

Posted on Aug 23, 2008 at 10:37pm by robotaholic Comment #35

this man is completely a mess-

Here is a blog with another review

http://de-conversion.com/2008/08/24/thank-god-for-evolution-by-michael-dowd/

Dowd’s resulting theology of Humanistic/Christian/Universalist views is a confusing mishmash of vague spirituality, mythology, pop psychology and a smattering of science.

This blog claims to be a site for “resources for skeptical, de-converting, or former christians”

Posted on Aug 24, 2008 at 4:18am by Jackson Comment #36

this man is completely a mess- and lives like an evangelist…out of people’s homes

But you have to admit….he has a great gig! ;-)

Posted on Aug 24, 2008 at 5:01am by asanta Comment #37

The morning after my interview with D.J., I realized that I could shorten “7 Reasons” to “4 Reasons…”. For those interested, I’ve posted “4 Reasons Why Nothing Matters More Than What We Think About Evolution” here: http://thankgodforevolution.com/node/1132

Posted on Aug 24, 2008 at 5:07am by Michael Dowd Comment #38

Thanks, Jackson.

That was a well done review I think, they bring up some of the same points as Michael Booker in skeptic magazine. I’m stuck on a certain point about this (not that there isn’t others - though I must admit that I can’t find to much terribly wrong); even though the book does not forward a ‘supernatural’ God and it is reported that it has been; - “endorsed by 5 Nobel laureates and 120 other esteemed scientists, ministers, priests, rabbis, theologians, and other religious and cultural leaders across the spectrum, from Baptists to Buddhists, including many respected atheists,” - I can’t get away from the idea that a rather bad mistake has been made in forwarding his effort with a Christianized view (though I do recognize its not all consuming - and I think I understand why Dawkins would endorse that letter being published). Here’s what I mean - take a look at the book cover - Book Cover of Thank God for Evolution

Posted on Aug 24, 2008 at 5:10am by jholt Comment #39

Let’s look at your 4 reasons.

1. A shared sacred story that honors both objective truth and subjective meaning…A sacred evolutionary worldview helps us celebrate both realms: the day realm of objective truth and the night realm of subjective meaning.

From this are we supposed to take it that all deep meaning if necessarily religious in nature? It is not.  Other problems:
A) anything “Sacred” or “Reverential” immediately becomes resistance to change and questioning. The effect seems to magnify with time (see The Roman Catholic Church)
B) scientists and people in general have merrily discussed the deep-thought subjective implications of evolution for the last hundred+ years. This has been easy and appropriate without ever having to call on the bullshittery of religious-speak. No one was sitting around waiting for your grand ideas in order to be able to talk biophilosophy.

2. REALizes religion, sanctifies science, and reveals the true magnitude of both: ...

For example, the biblical story of the fall of Adam and Eve and the concept of Original Sin superbly reveal a deep truth that has only recently been understood in a factual way, thanks to evolutionary brain science and evolutionary psychology. Yes, we all have powerful instincts: instincts that served the survival and reproductive needs of our ancestors in early human and pre-human times, but that are now sometimes very much out of sync with the demands of civilized life.

The Biblical story also informs all readers in clear, unmistable terms: it’s your fault. All pain and suffering in the world is your doing. This is 180 degrees away from EP answers. No one is responsible for their genetic hand or that of the species or the fact that pain and suffering is inextricably woven into life on planet Earth. This is to say nothing of the upsetting sexism of the story, also destroyed by any scientific perspective. You continue..

Thus, one of the greatest gifts afforded by religiously nourishing interpretations of the science-based history of the universe is that it becomes obvious how unnatural-sounding (“supernatural”) language can be interpreted in undeniably real, and utterly experiential, ways.

In other words, you can make it obvious to believers their book o’magical tales does not mesh with reality? Scientists and nonbelievers have been doing this for centuries if not longer. Your solution is to say “put down your religious myths and pick up our science myths- the magic tastes the same!” This is not an improvement in any way.

3. Unmasks the powers of manipulation and clarifies our way forward: When we understand our brain’s creation story and its deep structure we can easily see how the media ...

Actually I agree with everything about point 3, until you get to this..

To use religious language: only by understanding the major breakthroughs in evolution—how God actually created everything, how it measurably occurred—can we possibly know what God is up to today or what God’s will is for humanity and for the body of life as a whole.

Exactly how did this improve what was said before it? What God is up to today? What? Maybe a God who authored an evolutionary process guaranteed to kill 99.99% of every species ever to live, responsible for ebola and Malaria and fatal appendix ruptures (by design!), etc.., isn’t quite worth our checking up on.

4. Key to alleviating suffering, living life fully, and loving the life you live: So much suffering in the world today can be traced to people and groups being out of integrity—that is, living day by day in ways that just don’t square with Reality, ...

This section is fuzzyheaded and naive. A lot of suffering comes about because people do what does square with reality, at least their own. People steal and benefit from stealing. They lie and benefit from lieing. As a society, these are harmful of course but societies are not the unit of evolution. Genes are. The reason we have ignoble instincts is that they benefitted their owners. The best science indicates that rape is or was a successful reproductive strategy for some individuals. This “squares” fine with reality. Here our evolution must be fought, not welcomed.. not treated as if part of some wonderful “trajectory” if we can just follow it.

Evolution is driven by mindless forces with an amoral disregard to suffering or injustice. Morality is not and should not be so imprisoned.

Understanding evolution is critical for a hundred good reasons.. but mattering more than anything else? Madness.

Posted on Aug 24, 2008 at 7:20am by sate Comment #40

Michael Dowd insists that evolution must be fable-ized to give mankind hope and a sense of direction in the future. Problem is, as long as you don’t have a solid grasp of the inherent messiness and arbitrariness of evolution in actual nature, then you can interpret it in such a way. But when you really grasp it, you can’t in my opinion. Michael’s hope is that society never truly grasps what evolution through natural selection actually is. I am reminded of my favorite line by Sam Harris in one of his talks which can be applied here. As evolution becomes accepted as religious fable its interpretation will become a “masterpiece of political correctness”.

Do we look at humanity and say “you can’t handle the truth!”

Dowd seems to think so. Or maybe Dowd has already conned himself into thinking that his rosy picture is some sort of accurate depiction of reality.

“Life is tragic, and the more we understand the more tragic it gets”- Stephen Weinberg said to Richard Dawkins. But no, says Dowd. Watching the cuckoo chick push the others out of the nest to their deaths is glorious and beautiful. It nurtures hope and bolsters our integrity. Pfwwwwwww.. mmm thats some good $%^ man.

Posted on Aug 24, 2008 at 8:18am by Jackpot11 Comment #41

I am reminded of my favorite line by Sam Harris in one of his talks which can be applied here. As evolution becomes accepted as religious fable its interpretation will become a “masterpiece of political correctness”.

Hi Jackpot, I must have missed Sam saying this, could you let me know where I can find this quote in context.

Posted on Aug 24, 2008 at 8:23am by jholt Comment #42

The reference was in his beyond belief 2 talk about 16 minutes in.  http://thesciencenetwork.org/BeyondBelief2/watch/harris.php


He is talking about the romanticism of Jonathan Haidt’s views (which is what reminded me of the reverend and his attempts to romanticise evolution into something emotionally palatable and somehow inspiring to humanity)-

HARRIS- Jonathan Haidt has said that N. Korea was clearly beyond the pale, a human experiment gone awry,
and these people were needlessly suffering, this is unethical. I await with some feelings of glee his attempt to adumbrate a morality that will focus appropriate condemnation
on N. Korea but will leave Islam totally exonerated. I *guarantee* you that will be a masterpiece of political correctness.

Posted on Aug 24, 2008 at 9:44am by Jackpot11 Comment #43

The morning after my interview with D.J., I realized that I could shorten “7 Reasons” to “4 Reasons…”. For those interested, I’ve posted “4 Reasons Why Nothing Matters More Than What We Think About Evolution” here: http://thankgodforevolution.com/node/1132

I know you’re trying to build (or repair) bridges, but you’re engaging in nothing more than Utopian reverie.

”... For the first time in human history we have a creation story that not only addresses life’s biggest questions—Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? Why are we here? How are we to live?—but helps us answer those questions in ways that are both religiously inspiring and scientifically accurate. No longer are subjective meaning and objective truth isolated from one another in separate domains. ...”

“... Only by knowing how we really got here and the trajectory we’re undeniably on can we possibly respond to global issues like climate change and terrorism without making things worse. ...”

By these statements, you’re trying to escape science, not embrace it. For example, if you really accepted evolution by natural selection, you would not look there for any answer to “Where are we going? Why are we here? How are we to live?” (Most skeptics, I think, consider it futile to search for ultimate answers.) And science provides no Utopian “trajectory” that has any meaning to our collective lives. Individually, and culturally, we define meaning & purpose for ourselves, but those answers don’t arise from scientific inquiry any more than do the works of Whitman or Wagner. If we are decide to reduce threats to our existence, we need look no further than evolutionarily achieved survival instinct, not some ultimate goal in the future.

And regarding the consequences of your writings, I really find the schmaltzing of science to be a diversion from meaningful dialogue and perhaps even dangerous. Scientific inquiry arises our innate desire to describe our surroundings and understand its processes. But if you believe that science will tell you how to live, you can just as easily justify eugenics and Social Darwinism as you can conflict-avoidance morality.

Posted on Aug 24, 2008 at 10:14am by NH Baritone Comment #44

The reference was in his beyond belief 2 talk about 16 minutes in.  http://thesciencenetwork.org/BeyondBelief2/watch/harris.php


He is talking about the romanticism of Jonathan Haidt’s views (which is what reminded me of the reverend and his attempts to romanticise evolution into something emotionally palatable and somehow inspiring to humanity)-

HARRIS- Jonathan Haidt has said that N. Korea was clearly beyond the pale, a human experiment gone awry,
and these people were needlessly suffering, this is unethical. I await with some feelings of glee his attempt to adumbrate a morality that will focus appropriate condemnation
on N. Korea but will leave Islam totally exonerated. I *guarantee* you that will be a masterpiece of political correctness.

Thanks, Jackpot. I do recall Sam saying this. I do have the feeling, with what I’ve seen thus far, that Sam’s view would be very similar to yours.

Posted on Aug 24, 2008 at 10:55am by jholt Comment #45

even though the book does not forward a ‘supernatural’ God and it is reported that it has been; - “endorsed by 5 Nobel laureates and 120 other esteemed scientists, ministers, priests, rabbis, theologians, and other religious and cultural leaders across the spectrum, from Baptists to Buddhists, including many respected atheists,” - I can’t get away from the idea that a rather bad mistake has been made in forwarding his effort with a Christianized view

I have a problem with the “there is more than one kind of truth”  line of thinking.

Posted on Aug 24, 2008 at 4:46pm by Jackson Comment #46

Regarding the question of whether or not one can interpret the history of cosmos, Earth, life, and humanity in religiously inspiring ways, I recommend the following links:
http://evolutionaryspirituality.wikia.com/wiki/Evolutionary_perspective and
http://evolutionaryspirituality.wikia.com/wiki/Introduction_to_Evolutionary_Spirituality

It’s also possible to interpret the very same history of the universe in non-inspiring ways, of course.  What’s not possible is not interpreting it someway (see Primack and Abrams below).

For those interested in this subject, I especially recommend the following books:

Robert Wright – Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny
http://www.nonzero.org/
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Nonzero-Logic-Destiny-Robert-Wright/dp/0679758941/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1219621367&sr=1-1

John Stewart – Evolution’s Arrow
http://www4.tpg.com.au/users/jes999/
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Evolutions-Arrow-Direction-Evolution-Humanity/dp/0646394975/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1219621408&sr=1-1

My wife Connie Barlow’s book: Evolution Extended: Biological Debates on the Meaning of Life, originally published in 1995 by MIT Press and now self-published in paperback, is also helpful on this topic:
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0262023733/qid=1125279783/sr=2-1/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_1/104-1049298-3891134?v=glance&s=books

Joel R. Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams - The View from the Center of the Universe
http://viewfromthecenter.com/buzz/reviews.html
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/View-Center-Universe-Discovering-Extraordinary/dp/B000MR8TEU/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1219621313&sr=8-1

Finally, I recommend you all actually read my own book, “Thank God for Evolution”: http://thankgodforevolution.com
(If not for yourself, read it with an eye to recommending it to your religious family members, friends, or co-workers, if you have any.)
The fact that 5 Nobel laureates endorsed TGFE - http://thankgodforevolution/nobel - may not impress you.  But the fact that D.J. Grothe said he considered it a “must read”! ... :-)

Posted on Aug 24, 2008 at 4:54pm by Michael Dowd Comment #47

even though the book does not forward a ‘supernatural’ God and it is reported that it has been; - “endorsed by 5 Nobel laureates and 120 other esteemed scientists, ministers, priests, rabbis, theologians, and other religious and cultural leaders across the spectrum, from Baptists to Buddhists, including many respected atheists,” - I can’t get away from the idea that a rather bad mistake has been made in forwarding his effort with a Christianized view

I have a problem with the “there is more than one kind of truth”  line of thinking.

Well, if you’ve ever lived through teenager-angst, ever had an argument with a spouse, ever considered your boss absolutely out-to-lunch, then you’ve encountered different kinds of truth.

The problem arises when people think that there are different kinds of facts.

And often the fact most relevant to a topic is that nobody knows the answer.

Posted on Aug 24, 2008 at 4:55pm by NH Baritone Comment #48

FYI…For those interested, here are resources on the subject of evolutionary emergence and meaning that I cite at the end of my book, Thank God for Evolution)...

Barlow, Connie, ed. Evolution Extended: Biological Debates on the Meaning of Life
Beck, Don and Chris Cowan. Spiral Dynamics
Bloom, Howard. The Lucifer PrincipleGlobal Brain
Carroll, Sean B. Endless Forms Most BeautifulThe Making of the Fittest
Chaisson, Eric. Epic of Evolution: Seven Ages of the Cosmos
Corning, Peter. Nature’s MagicHolistic Darwinism
Dawkins, Richard. Climbing Mount ImprobableThe Selfish Gene
Eiseley, Loren. The Immense JourneyStarthrower
Elgin, Duane. Awakening Earth
Hubbard, Barbara Marx. Conscious Evolution
Huxley, Julian. Religion Without Revelation
Liebes, Sidney, et al. A Walk Through Time
Logan, Robert K. The Sixth Language
Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. MicrocosmosDazzle Gradually
Morowitz, Harold. Emergence of Everything: How the World Became Complex
Morris, Simon Conway. Life’s SolutionsThe Deep Structure of Biology
Ong, Walter. Orality and LiteracyThe Presence of the Word
Richerson, Peter and Robert Boyd. Not by Genes Alone
Russell, Peter. Waking Up in TimeThe Global Brain
Sahtouris, Elisabet. EarthDance: Living Systems in Evolution
Stewart, John. Evolution’s Arrow
Teilhard de Chardin. The Human PhenomenonThe Divine Milieu
Wright, Robert. Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny

Posted on Aug 24, 2008 at 6:46pm by Michael Dowd Comment #49

Rev. Michael,

Have you had a chance to see Stuart Kauffman’s book, Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion?

With regards to your book, Thank God for Evolution; I’ve read several reviews from skeptics, atheist and scientist, plus read blogs, general book reviews, listened to the PoI and Infidelguy interviews, checked your site out (plus of course I’ve been reading the input on this forum) ... and I will be recommending your book highly to my sister. She is a Christian, though no where near a “fundamentalist”, but she has a great deal of trouble getting a grip on ENS. She is very intelligent and I’ve tried many different approaches, but with little luck. She simply doesn’t see the overall significance and puts up a wall at the idea of human evolution.

Edited several times after noticing that I wasn’t clear that I was talking about Thank God for Evolution in the above paragraph.

Posted on Aug 24, 2008 at 6:55pm by jholt Comment #50

I’ve seen Kauffman’s book but have not read it yet.  I’ve heard it’s good though Connie, my wife (who read a couple of chapters in it) said his writing style didn’t do much for her.

I hope you sister likes my book.  Let me know.

Best,

~ M

Posted on Aug 25, 2008 at 5:33am by Michael Dowd Comment #51

I hope you sister likes my book.  Let me know.

If I can get my sister to take this book and actually read it, I assure you I will be letting you know.

While searching out review material for the book (was going to grab a copy at the library but it’s reserved for some time), I purposefully tried to find what I would consider people that would be the hardest on the book. I ran down anyone that is in the war on religion mode.

I found a few, one being from PZ Myers. Thank God for Evolution! - July 17, 2007. It’s probably the hardest hitting review I’ve seen and yet there’s nowhere to tell me my decision to recommend this book to someone like my sister is ill advised, in fact at the end he is pointing out this idea. I’ve yet to see where the science is wrong, but there is a criticism that the way the science is presented can get wishy-washy. Taking all the material I’ve read on this book so far, all I can conjure up is that if this is successful over time, that would be an amazing feat.

Posted on Aug 25, 2008 at 6:17am by jholt Comment #52

This interview stuck a strong chord with me ... though admittedly it took me a long time to figure out where Michael was coming from. I may still not know.

Something I got out of this interview with Michael:
I think that in order to act with purpose in our daily lives, we must first build models of how we imagine ourselves to exist within our environment. A model might be as concrete as the location of my fingers and keys on my keyboard—or as ephemeral as the model of how I see my ideas fitting within the context of this thread. In all cases, we need these models in order to set short term and long term goals for ourselves. But none of us has enough factual knowledge to build complete models of our environments, so we necessarily fill in the blind spots with our guesses and abstractions.

Our models are necessarily abstractions of reality. We understand systems and relationships not by measuring each individual part of the system, but by abstracting the system as a whole. Symbols and metaphors are methods of abstraction.

“Religion” can serve much the same purpose on a societal scale as our personal models serve us on an individual scale. The story of Adam and Eve in the garden is a publicly shared model; it’s an attempt at creating an abstraction of and a model of an aspect of our social reality. Such stories in principle can have value as a method to organize society ultimately perhaps to work collectively toward common goals.

The real problem with the Adam and Eve story is that 2000+ years later, much of society is still stuck in that metaphor. They haven’t significantly evolved from that metaphore, despite new and better understanding about the facts of the world.

A point of criticism
As already pointed out in this thread, Michael uses the word “sacred” as if it’s a good thing, and I don’t see where he’s coming from on that. As I understand the word, it carries a lot of negative baggage.

When we call something “sacred”, aren’t we basically saying that it is off limits to be challenged? and isn’t this the essential problem inherent in our religions? Religious models of the world have been resistant to evolution (i.e. resistant to being remodeled based on factual information)  because the authorities of religion label certain beliefs to be “sacred” .

Posted on Aug 25, 2008 at 6:36am by Riley Comment #53

jholt - you are correct.  PZ Myers did a fabulous job of humorously panning my book without really making any substantive criticisms.  The science in TGFE is sound.  It was vetted by many top scientists and science writers before the book went to press.  As I mentioned in my first post on this site, I invite anyone who would attempt to claim that my science is wrong or stretched to cite page and paragraph.

My way of teaching/preaching the science is designed to work - that is, it is designed to be alluring and effective in ushering religious folk into an evidential, science-based worldview and valuing THAT over ancient mythic stories.  Only time will tell, of course, whether or not I am successful in this.  But TGFE is at least my first best shot.

Riley - I use traditional “night language” (meaning-laden) words like “reverence”, “sacred”, and “holy” to point to that which is worthy of our deepest honoring, valuing, and respect.  The universe story (a.k.a, epic of evolution) is the story of the changing story.  Our knowledge of it will always be incomplete and our telling of it will always change.  Praise Darwin! :-)

Posted on Aug 25, 2008 at 9:52am by Michael Dowd Comment #54

One more thing about the word “sacred”...

While words like this certainly do (understandably!) carry lots of negative baggage for skeptical and non-religious folk, such words also carry hugely positive meaning for the billions of religious people in the world that must, it seems to me, be reached and effectively brought into an evolutionary/ecological worldview in the coming decades—that is, for our species to have half a chance of surviving and thriving into the next century.

Posted on Aug 25, 2008 at 9:59am by Michael Dowd Comment #55

One more thing about the word “sacred”...

While words like this certainly do (understandably!) carry lots of negative baggage for skeptical and non-religious folk, such words also carry hugely positive meaning for the billions of religious people in the world that must, it seems to me, be reached and effectively brought into an evolutionary/ecological worldview in the coming decades—that is, for our species to have half a chance of surviving and thriving into the next century.

Mr. Dowd, thanks for taking time to respond here.

Your argument here hinges on the premise (1) that people need religion or some sort of quasi-religious outlook. Further (2) it seems to demand that broad acceptance of evolution requires we talk about it like we’re Pat Robertson trying to wring another dime from our enfeebled flock.

This is all demonstrably false. (1) This forum is full of atheists with no religion and no grandiose psuedo-religion either. We have as much reverence of good, important theories without ever having needed to mystify it or obfuscate it with negatively-charged god-speak. I doubt it is much different for the millions of other atheists who presumably have no idea who you are.
(2) Most of the western world accepts evolution (and is highly atheistic). America is a bit of a freak here, but notwithstanding.. acceptance is high in the rest of the modern, free world. We can rightly ask, how did it get that way? For this there are many good answers but assuredly one of them is not a sweeping campaign of magical feel-good storytelling.

This is not to say your book would not improve the situation for some. To me though, it’s like treatment for a drug addict. Methadone can help get a heroine addict clean but a better solution is to prevent the addiction in the first place- which seems to be what has happened everywhere else.

Posted on Aug 25, 2008 at 10:24am by sate Comment #56

One more thing about the word “sacred”...

While words like this certainly do (understandably!) carry lots of negative baggage for skeptical and non-religious folk, such words also carry hugely positive meaning for the billions of religious people in the world that must, it seems to me, be reached and effectively brought into an evolutionary/ecological worldview in the coming decades—that is, for our species to have half a chance of surviving and thriving into the next century.

Thanks, Michael for taking the time to explain some of these finer points. Personally, I steer away from using loaded words such as; sacred, spiritual, soul, mysticism and of course God, when in discourse describing my experiences. But, I do try to recognize what others are telling me when they use such language and by extension understand their views. There is certainly a fair amount of people in the secular/atheist/humanist/skeptical communities that do frame discourse to allow for the use of such words.

I could highlight many examples, but since we’re trying to be specific I’d point out the way Sam Harris certain words, including sacred. This example is useful in that where the language is used is in fact part of a broader outline of how Sam views the subject of religion in our current state. This view is painted in stark terms that can not be interpreted in any other way than a very potent criticism of religion.

In the opening of The End of Faith, Sam states:

There is no denying that most of us have emotional and spiritual needs that are now addressed ”however obliquely and at a terrible price” by mainstream religion. And these are needs that a mere understanding of our world, scientific or otherwise, will never fulfill. There is clearly a sacred dimension to our existence, and coming to terms with it could well be the highest purpose of human life.

The question as to why Sam would take such a route may be better understood taken in broader perspective. He lays some of this out I believe in later chapters of the above book, but to be more precise, I think this interview with Salon’s, Steve Paulson, may be more to the point as to why Sam would feel freer to use such language. 

Steve: One thing I find so fascinating about your book is that you’re out there as an atheist. And yet you also say life has a sacred dimension. You talk about the value of spirituality and mystical experiences. It’s interesting that you put all that in the same pot.

Sam: Yeah, many atheists felt it should not have been in the same pot. But I think it’s necessary to just be honest. These are some of the most beautiful and most profound experiences that human beings can have. And therefore we’re right to want to understand them and to explore that landscape.
...
Steve: It sounds like you’re open-minded to the possibility of telepathy—things that we might classify as psychic. You’re saying it’s entirely possible that they might be true and science at some point will be able to prove them.

Sam: Yeah, and there’s a lot of data out there that’s treated in most circles like intellectual pornography that attests to there being a real phenomenon here. I just don’t know. But I’ve had the kinds of experiences that everyone has had that seem to confirm telepathy or the fact that minds can influence other minds.
...
Steve: Tell me about one of those experiences.

Sam: Oh, just knowing who’s calling when that person hasn’t called you in years. The phone rings and you know who it is and it’s not your mother or your wife or someone who calls you every day. I’ve had many experiences like that. I know many people who’ve had even more bizarre experiences. But that does not rise to the level of scientific evidence. The only way to determine if it really exists is to look in a disinterested and sustained way at all of the evidence. 
...
Steve: You are a neuroscientist. Do you think there’s any chance that human consciousness can survive after death?

Sam: I just don’t know. One thing I can tell you is that we don’t know what the actual relationship between consciousness and the physical world is. There are good reasons to be skeptical of the naive conception of a soul. We know that almost everything we take ourselves to be subjectively—all of our cognitive powers, our ability to understand language, our ability to acknowledge anything in our physical environment through our senses—this is mediated by the brain. So the idea that a brain can die and a soul that still speaks English and recognizes Granny is going to float away into the afterlife, that seems to be profoundly implausible. And yet we do not know what the relationship between subjectivity and objectivity
ultimately is.
...
Steve: That’s interesting. Most evolutionary biologists would say consciousness is rooted in the brain. It will not survive death. You are not willing to make that claim.

Sam: I just don’t know. I’m trying to be honest about my gradations of certainty. I think consciousness poses a unique problem. If we were living in a universe where consciousness survived death, or transcended the brain so that single neurons were conscious—or subatomic particles had an interior dimension—we would not expect to see it by our present techniques of neuro-imaging or cellular neuroscience. And we would never expect to see it. And so we have a problem.

I think taking the fuller picture into account helps to understand why Sam would want to frame such language in his attempt to communicate them in a rational way.

Posted on Aug 25, 2008 at 11:02am by jholt Comment #57

I ran out of space in my last post. I should add another dimension that helps explain why the use of such language may be found acceptable in certain context to Sam.

Steve: Did you pursue those spiritual interests?

Sam: Yeah, I’ve spent a lot of time studying meditation and sitting on meditation retreats where you’re in silence for the entire duration, whether it’s one month or three months, just practicing meditation for sometimes 18 hours a day. I’ve done this mostly in a Buddhist context, but not exclusively. And I’ve spent a lot of time studying religion and the contemplative traditions within Christianity and Judaism and Islam.
...
Steve: It sounds like you’ve been meditating for years and often quite seriously. Have you ever felt bliss or rapture while you’ve meditated?

Sam: Oh yeah. The problem with those states, however, is that they are transitory. They are conditioned by concentration. And when your mind is no longer concentrated on your object of meditation—whether you’re focusing on Jesus or a mantra or the state of rapture itself—when thoughts again intervene and you’re no longer concentrated in the same way, the state goes. And one of the real pitfalls of the contemplative life is to crave those states. You can become a kind of drug addict of your own meditative process where you mistake those states as being the goal of meditation.

Posted on Aug 25, 2008 at 11:14am by jholt Comment #58

Your argument here hinges on the premise (1) that people need religion or some sort of quasi-religious outlook. Further (2) it seems to demand that broad acceptance of evolution requires we talk about it like we’re Pat Robertson trying to wring another dime from our enfeebled flock.

This is all demonstrably false. (1) This forum is full of atheists with no religion and no grandiose psuedo-religion either. We have as much reverence of good, important theories without ever having needed to mystify it or obfuscate it with negatively-charged god-speak. I doubt it is much different for the millions of other atheists who presumably have no idea who you are.
(2) Most of the western world accepts evolution (and is highly atheistic). America is a bit of a freak here, but notwithstanding.. acceptance is high in the rest of the modern, free world. We can rightly ask, how did it get that way? For this there are many good answers but assuredly one of them is not a sweeping campaign of magical feel-good storytelling.

This is not to say your book would not improve the situation for some. To me though, it’s like treatment for a drug addict. Methadone can help get a heroine addict clean but a better solution is to prevent the addiction in the first place- which seems to be what has happened everywhere else.

Sate, my argument does nothing of the sort.  I suggest you actually read my book.  I’d be surprised if you don’t find most of it worthwhile and wish me the best of luck in getting this message out to religious folk. 

(1) Nowhere do I suggest or even imply that people NEED religion, nor a quasi-religious interpretation of science.  Most people DO, however, in order to thrive, need a sense of meaning and purpose, and religion has traditionally/historically been where most people have found it.  What I am suggesting is that science can be interpreted meaningfully (for those who are so inclined) and that the very same science can enrich and enhance a wide variety of religious and non-religious perspectives (by grounding them in measurably reality). Moreover, I suggest that a mainstream scientific understanding of the history of the universe can serve as a modern-day creation myth that, I believe, (over the coming decades) can and will inspire religious and anti-religious people alike to cooperate across ethnic, political, and religious differences in service of a healthy future for planet Earth and its species.

(2) You are correct, of course, about much of the western world embracing evolution without having needed to interpret it mythically first.  But if recent polls are to be trusted, most Americans are simply not there yet, and not likely to get there anytime soon without some assistance.

In a June 2007 USA Today/Gallup Poll, 66% of Americans said that “creationism,” defined by the survey as “the idea that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years,” was “probably true” (27%) or “definitely true” (39%). The same survey found that 30% believe that “God guided” evolution while 13% said “God had no part” in evolution. In a March 2007 Newsweek Poll, 48% of Americans said that “God created humans in the present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.” In an August 2005 Gallup poll, 58% of the public said that creationism was definitely or probably true as an explanation for the origin and development of life. In 2004, Gallup also found that 34% of Americans believed the Bible should be taken literally “word for word”.

My book is a first step effort to reach these folk and the tens of millions of moderate to liberal Christians who accept evolution the way most of us accept death and taxes. If my experience teaching and preaching the perspective offered in TGFE for the last 6 years tells me anything, it tells me that the approach Connie and I offer has at least a decent chance of succeeding.  Time will tell.  I certainly look forward to others going way beyond me in the coming decades.  If you know of other avenues you feel are likely to be effective in this regard, please let me know.  Surely many different approaches will be needed.

Let’s remember that 55% of the human population (more than 3 billion people) are Christians and Muslims, and that more of these people are on the conservative end of the theological spectrum than not. My approach and others like it may not be effective in reaching these people over the next few decades, but I’m betting my life that it will be.  Even if not, however, I cannot think of a better or more fulfilling way to live.  Connie, my atheist/humanist/science-writer wife - http://www.thegreatstory.org/CB-writings.html - wholeheartedly agrees.  We’re having tons of fun doing what we feel compelled to do and seem to be pretty good at doing.  We’re falling ever more in love with North America and doing the most and best we can to leave a better world.  What more can I ask for in life?

Thanks for your pointed critique.  I’d hope to meet you someday in person.  I suspect we’d both enjoy the company and conversation.

Co-evolutionarily,

~ Michael

Posted on Aug 25, 2008 at 11:22am by Michael Dowd Comment #59

Michael,

I just saw a picture of you standing in front of what looks like a Hubble telescope shot of a nebula and pointing to a poster with an image of the brain and this message sprung to mind.

“For we are the local embodiment of a Cosmos grown to self awareness. We have begun to contemplate our origins: starstuff pondering the stars; organized assemblages of ten billion billion billion atoms considering the evolution of atoms; tracing their long journey by which, here at least, consciousness arose. Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for earth. Our obligation to survive is owed not just to ourselves but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we sprung.”

Posted on Aug 25, 2008 at 12:16pm by jholt Comment #60

Dowd reminds me of the Jesuits who taught me in college. They also wanted to have their God and eat it too. They
would drive me mad with their insistence that they were free to do “deep interpretations” of all the stuff in their
little holy book, stuff that was spelled out pretty much unequivocally as fact, but which they—knowing those “facts”
were silly—would “interpret” in some vaguely New Age, Jungian, pantheistic way. I consider it now what
I considered it then: intellectual dishonesty and cowardice. Kierkegaard got it absolutely right: if someone wants
to get away with calling themselves a “Christian” then they should step up to the terrifying existential responsibility
implicit in calling themselves such. As K bluntly put it: if someone doesn’t have the “faith of Abraham”—that is to
say, the willingness to slit one’s child’s throat because a voice in one’s head tells one to do so—then one doesn’t
have a right to call oneself a “Christian”.  Somehow I think if Dowd heard a small still voice in his head, his first
stop would be at the nearest mental health clinic, just as any self-respecting freethinker would.

Posted on Aug 25, 2008 at 12:33pm by steveg144 Comment #61

“For we are the local embodiment of a Cosmos grown to self awareness. We have begun to contemplate our origins: starstuff pondering the stars; organized assemblages of ten billion billion billion atoms considering the evolution of atoms; tracing their long journey by which, here at least, consciousness arose. Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for earth. Our obligation to survive is owed not just to ourselves but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we sprung.”

... let us travel in our space ship of the imagination ...

Posted on Aug 25, 2008 at 12:37pm by Riley Comment #62

Thanks for your posts, jholt.  Yes, I actually have the Sagan quote memorized and begin most of my sermons this way: “Today’s scripture reading is from cosmologist Carl Sagan…” then I recite the quote you posted.  Another of Carl’s quotes which I love is this one:

“Science is, at least in part, informed worship.”

Posted on Aug 25, 2008 at 12:44pm by Michael Dowd Comment #63

As K bluntly put it: if someone doesn’t have the “faith of Abraham”—that is to say, the willingness to slit one’s child’s throat because a voice in one’s head tells one to do so—then one doesn’t have a right to call oneself a “Christian”.

It’s not enough that we have authoritarian fundamentalist Christians to dictate who does and who does not have the right to call themselves a “Christian” ... now we have authoritarian fundamentalist non-believers to do that as well?

wonderful.

Posted on Aug 25, 2008 at 12:44pm by Riley Comment #64

As K bluntly put it: if someone doesn’t have the “faith of Abraham”—that is to say, the willingness to slit one’s child’s throat because a voice in one’s head tells one to do so—then one doesn’t have a right to call oneself a “Christian”.

It’s not enough that we have authoritarian fundamentalist Christians to dictate who does and who does not have the right to call themselves a “Christian” ... now we have authoritarian fundamentalist non-believers to do that as well?

wonderful.

I have no more patience for a New Age pantheist like Dowd calling himself a “Christian” than I would have for someone who
proclaimed themselves an atheist and then say “Well, of course, I actually kinda sorta believe in some kinda God, but you know,
nudge nudge, wink wink ...” I’m old enough and crusty enough to insist that people at least have the courage of their purported
convictions, and not hide behind a wall of fluffy-bunny rhetorical gingerbread.

Posted on Aug 25, 2008 at 12:50pm by steveg144 Comment #65

Steve, more power to the person who can transform Christianity into a culture that rejects supernatural belief (personal “god” and all) and that fully embraces the universe as revealed by evidence. Everything else is just a matter of symbolic preferences and personal perspective.

Posted on Aug 25, 2008 at 1:22pm by Riley Comment #66

Steve/CrustyPolemicist,

You write as though you didn’t see my earlier posts.  I find it hard to believe you would say what you’re saying here had you read them.

I guess I have two questions for you:

1) Do you know of anything more important in the coming decades than assisting religious people the world over (especially here in America) in coming to embrace a science-based evolutionary/ecological worldview?

2) Do you know of an approach that seems more likely to succeed in this endeavor (or at least be a stepping stone in the right direction) than the one I sketch out in TGFE?

Best,

~ Michael

Posted on Aug 25, 2008 at 1:58pm by Michael Dowd Comment #67

I certainly enjoyed the interview and wouldn’t dispute the smoothness of Mr. Dowd’s sales pitch…

But the fundamental flaw is opportunism. What is the trade-off? Mr Dowd would have us believe that we can smuggle the scientific, materialist worldview through the closed borders of relgious superstition by covering it with (insincere) outward concessions to faith, and the artful, ‘respectful’ use of ‘night language’ or whatever…

On a retail level I’m sure it’s a good living. In the big picture I strongly doubt that these concessions will have the desired effect. The positive reenforcement offered to the anti-rationalist worldview will be registered by the true believers, while the sugar-coated science/ecology message will mainly be embraced by those who are already there anyway.

Ultimately, the consciousness of broad masses of people does not change through salesmanship, but through transformations in the material circumstances of daily life, for good or ill… at a certain point the comfort provided by the false consciousness of religion is inadquate to the felt anger, frustration, and outrage at the injustices dished out by the rulers to the ruled. The churches, mosques etc. rush in at these moments to emphasize the ‘social justice’ features of their various teachings - in hopes of keeping the lid on… and sometimes succeed.

But the same principle, as I see it, is not applicable in reverse. It is better to swim against the stream of religious nonsense forthrightly and openly, while pointing out who and what is served by instilling the ‘virtues’ of blind obedience preached by the clerics, as a first step in illuminating how society really works under all the forms of ideological BS (not just religion) fed to us day in and day out.

Posted on Aug 26, 2008 at 11:48am by Balak Comment #68

Mr Dowd would have us believe that we can smuggle the scientific, materialist worldview through the closed borders of relgious superstition by covering it with (insincere) outward concessions to faith, and the artful, ‘respectful’ use of ‘night language’ or whatever…

These types of responses remind me of the type that Sam Harris has received when promoting meditation and “mindfulness” as a valid area for research. Likewise, Sam’s critics get so caught up in what the tradition of meditation has often meant (e.g. ideological BS such as pantheism and new age mysticism) that they fail to be able to get at the content of what is actually being proposed.

Balak, would you assume that Einstein was making insincere concessions to faith based merely on the fact that he made reference to “god” in his writings and public statements?

Posted on Aug 26, 2008 at 12:52pm by Riley Comment #69

THE SACRED EMERGENCE OF NATURE

If you want to know where Connie and I are coming from, as Religious Naturalists, I highly recommend reading an amazing essay by Ursula Goodenough and Terrence Deacon: “The Sacred Emergence of Nature”, which is a chapter in The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science.  It is a fabulous introduction to the worldview of emergent evolution (not the religious side of it—just the straight science/philosophy side of it).

I also highly recommend spending some time on the following websites:

THE GREAT STORY: http://www.thegreatstory.org

RELIGIOUS NATURALISM: http://www.religiousnaturalism.org/

~ Michael

Posted on Aug 26, 2008 at 1:32pm by Michael Dowd Comment #70

I think Mr Dowd’s references to Spinoza are misplaced. Spinoza was a tremendously corageous intellect, but extremely circumspect about the dangers of openly coming out as an unbeliever for very practical reasons (it was a good way to get yourself killed).

In contrast, the secular sanctimony being pushed here smacks more of of liberal cowardice in my opinion.

Ultimately, there are few people who come off as more ridculous in history than those - from the French revolutionaries of the 1790s to the Russian radicals like A. Lunacharsky, V. Bogdanov and the other ‘God Builders’ who tried to make science and socialism into a new relgion. They all had in common the attempt to ‘popularize’ a secular and scientific worldview by clothing it in priestly vestments and parading it around in a fog of incense. The masses never bought it… but the significance of a weakened Revolution grovelling before a (secular) altar is never lost on the reactionaries.

In the French case it helped open the gates for the Thermidorian Right and the later emergence of the upstart Napoleon. In Russia, after Stalin consolidated his bureaucratic stranglehold on the land of the October Revolution, he made Lunacharsky personally responsible for promoting the bizarre ‘cult of Lenin.’

Posted on Aug 26, 2008 at 2:03pm by Balak Comment #71

there are few people who come off as more ridculous in history than those [...] who tried to make science and socialism into a new relgion. They all had in common the attempt to ‘popularize’ a secular and scientific worldview by clothing it in priestly vestments and parading it around in a fog of incense. The masses never bought it…

...the priestly vestments, gowns,  tassels, ceremonies, greek fraternaty rituals, mascots, cheerleaders, loyalty pledges and bumper-stickers of our universities notwithstanding.

Posted on Aug 26, 2008 at 2:25pm by Riley Comment #72

Thomas Berry, one of my mentors, often said: “Humanity will never enter a mutually enhancing relationship with the natural world on the resources of the existing religious traditions—and we can’t get there without them.”  I agree.  So allow me to restate in a slightly less arrogant way what I asked in post #67:

1) If anyone on this forum knows of anything more important in the coming decades than assisting religious people the world over (especially here in America) in coming to embrace a science-based evolutionary/ecological worldview, please let me know.  I just don’t see it.

2) If anyone knows of an approach more likely to succeed in this endeavor (or at least be a stepping stone in the right direction) than the one I sketch out in TGFE, please let me know that too.

Thank God for Evolution is Connie’s and my best efforts toward this end.  The Great Story and TGFE websites are our best web efforts along these lines.

I look forward to others succeeding where we fail. Indeed, I can’t think of anything that would make my heart sing more loudly.

~ Michael

Posted on Aug 26, 2008 at 2:40pm by Michael Dowd Comment #73

So allow me to restate in a slightly less arrogant way what I asked in post #67:

1) If anyone on this forum knows of anything more important in the coming decades than assisting religious people the world over (especially here in America) in coming to embrace a science-based evolutionary/ecological worldview, please let me know.  I just don’t see it.

2) If anyone knows of an approach more likely to succeed in this endeavor (or at least be a stepping stone in the right direction) than the one I sketch out in TGFE, please let me know that too.

Michael,

That endeavor is important to you, so by all means pursue it as vigorously as you like. In contrast, I find the prospect at least tedious as trying to teach a pig to sing, and quite possibly just as barking mad. So personally, I won’t spend much time at it.

The most important thing to me is to help reduce the suffering of those with whom I interact. Sometimes the best way to accomplish this by helping them learn critical thinking skills. But I avoid trying to convince them of specific conclusions. If they’re being sensible, calm, and loving, then that’s a good sign they’re suffering is less (and causing less suffering) than someone who is irrational, revved up, and ruthless.

Posted on Aug 26, 2008 at 8:07pm by NH Baritone Comment #74

Thanks, NH Baritone.  I agree with you.  I’m doing what I feel “called”, “led”, “compelled”, and “inspired” to do, as you are.  In my limited experience of six years of preaching and teaching this perspective in many different religious and non-religious settings, I’m more hopeful than ever that it will work on a large scale.  Time, of course, will tell.  BTW, I discuss what I mean and do not mean by the word “God” in Chapter 7 of Thank God for Evolution: “What Do We Mean by the Word ‘God’”.

Also, for those who might be interested, I just posted on my TGFE blog a response to an atheist with Asperger’s Syndrome who came to one of my evening programs and sent me an email critiquing my perspective as too “Pollyanna” for his taste.

Best,

~ Michael

Posted on Aug 26, 2008 at 9:46pm by Michael Dowd Comment #75

First I have to say that I have not read your book and will probably not. I did listen to your interview on POV. While I am impatient when dealing with any superstitious magical beliefs, I also realize that deriding those same beliefs would not get me far in converting people to scientific method and rational thinking. As was mentioned in another forum, one size will never fit all. I think different approaches will work with different people, and some people will never change, no matter what approach is used. The more ‘tools’ in the logic arsenal, the more prepared we lovers of logic will be out in the real world. Michael, if your book changes just one person to where they believe in evolution, I would be happy, because that one person will teach their child about evolution and so one down the line. Although it is not my style, I think (from the description) it will (hopefully) be more effective that that.

Posted on Aug 26, 2008 at 11:53pm by asanta Comment #76

I just heard the second installment, and I have to say I agree with one of the earliest posters in this forum, who said that Mr. Dowd comes across as being unaware that he’s far, far afield of what would be in the ballpark for consideration as Christian theism (I think the poster said he’s an atheist in denial, or something).

If I understood the last few exchanges with DJ correctly, God isn’t taken by Mr. Dowd to be anything more than a motivational metaphor for humanity - a synonym for the universe.  He seems to be arguing that the physical universe and the emergence and evolution of life are the only real objective truths anybody knows with certainty, and that the only reason why US Christians (protestants, mostly) have trouble accepting evolution is that it hasn’t been sufficiently mythologized in religious language to make it palatable to them.

Either he’s unduly excited about having finally understood the natural law doctrine that the Roman Catholic tradition has embraced for centuries and with which (they’ve finally explicitly conceded) there is no conflict arising from the truth of evolution, or he’s unintentionally working on converting Christians to a pretend faith that is agnostic or secular at its core but which retains its historical theistic terminology for inspirational purposes.  Thoroughly, thoroughly obfuscating (though perhaps unintentionally so) in my view.

My guess is that a died-in-the-wool Catholic (among which Spong is not normally included) will respond to the message with “yes, but this is already well established”, the reason-driven protestants (Plantinga, Craig, etc.) will respond similarly, and the YEC crowd raising the big stink over evolution will just reject it out of hand.  I’d expect each of these sects would reject the lack of recognizable theology in the message, and that probably UCC-ers and Unitarians are about the only crowds that will jump up and embrace the message in its totality.  Maybe Deepak Chopra, too.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to see Christians working among themselves to bring their faith in alignment with reality, I’m just amazed by the packaging of this particular approach.

Since Mr. Dowd’s present in this forum, maybe he can comment on any misperceptions he sees in my take-aways from the podcast.

Posted on Aug 27, 2008 at 1:34am by Hoobajoob Comment #77

... BTW, I discuss what I mean and do not mean by the word “God” in Chapter 7 of Thank God for Evolution: “What Do We Mean by the Word ‘God’”.

You get kudos for taking the time to define the term in your book, but I was referring to discussions. Most of us have not read your book and do not plan to do so. (Your “marketing” here has reminded me more of a sassy salesman for Amway, a demonstrably mediocre product, than of an author whose ideas have merit on their own.) The same is true for most of the people at your seminars. And those that have read it have already filtered your definition through their own thought-prisms. My experience suggests that, unless debaters consistently remind one another what they mean when they use the word ‘god’, the definition drifts toward each individual’s initial bias. Like gravity, our preconceptions are difficult to escape because doing so makes us feel groundless.

Posted on Aug 27, 2008 at 4:37am by NH Baritone Comment #78

This may be my last post on this forum. I’m flying to Hawaii tomorrow morning (from Washington, DC) and expect to be mostly offline until Monday or Tuesday. 

Hoobajoob: You are largely correct in your assessment of my audience.

Those who tend to respond most enthusiastically to the Evolution Theology I espouse in my book and public programs are secular and science-oriented people who are not particularly anti-religious, Unitarian Universalists (which includes many humanists, atheists, and religious naturalists), Roman Catholics, mainline protestants, progressive evangelicals, New Thought folk (Unity and Religious Science), and those into Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, etc.

Those who rarely invite me/us to speak, rarely come to our programs, and tend to respond critically when they do, are young-earth creationists, religious fundamentalists of any kind, and the anti-religious crowd (well represented on this forum). Most in the latter group do wish me well and hope I’m effective in bringing religious people into an evidential worldview. But many are skeptical about my chances for success.

NH Baritone: Yes, I’m aware that most on this forum have no interest in reading my book. I also know that most anti-religious people have religious family members, friends, and co-workers, many of whom have a hard time embracing a scientific worldview. I apologize for coming off like a slick salesman. You are right, of course, I am almost always “marketing” my message. The reason I am “evangelistic” about this perspective is (I think) one of the reasons why so many Nobel laureates and other science and religion leaders have endorsed it — it’s a decent bridge that provides at least enough conceptual common ground for family members and friends with radically different worldviews to have a deep and meaningful conversation about issues that, up till now, they’ve not been able to.

Here’s my vision in nutshell (it’s how I conclude my book). I’m fully aware of how corny this will sound in the context of this forum. I share it here because it expresses my values and is the vision that wakes me up excited to be alive and play my role in the body of life each day.

Co-evolutionarily,

~ Michael

I envision the day when facts are universally celebrated as God’s native tongue, when evidence is honored as divine clues, and when the thought of looking to the past, rather than the present, for our best understanding of words like “God,” “sin,” “salvation,” “heaven,” and so forth, will be unimaginable.

I long for the day when public revelation is valued above private revelation nearly everywhere, and when day language and night language thrive in their respective domains. Oh, would it come to pass that millions of people wait with eager anticipation for the next revelations from God that appear in journals like Nature and Science. May there come a time when theologians and preachers vie with one another to articulate the most inspiring meanings of such ongoing revelation.

I cherish the day when awareness of the nested emergent nature of divine creativity will be universal, and when people everywhere understand that words create worlds. What a magnifi cent time it will be when the question “Do you believe in God?” makes no more sense than asking “Do you believe in Life?” or “Do you believe in Reality?”

I hunger for the day when most of the world’s religious believers see themselves as religious knowers; when the majority of Christians are Evolutionary Christians, the majority of Muslims are Evolutionary Muslims . . .

I salute the day when “the body of Christ” means all those individuals and organizations around the world who are committed to evolutionary integrity.

I anticipate a glorious day when understanding ourselves as stardust and as the Universe become conscious of itself inspires hundreds of millions of diverse people all over the world. I see, too, a time when generations live in relative peace with one another, thanks to a shared perception that death is no less sacred than life and, consequently, that this life, this moment, truly does matter.

I look forward to the day when God’s active guidance will be available to all. Yes, I say, yes! There will be a time when young people in every tradition wonder how it was possible for their elders to favor unnatural, otherworldly interpretations of the core doctrines of their faith when natural, evolutionary interpretations of our shared journey are so much more compelling and undeniable.

May there come a time, too, when billions of youth are taught in homes, churches, synagogues, mosques, schools, and through the media about the gifts and challenges of their inherited proclivities, and when healthy practices for channeling our most insistent urges are widely used and shared.

I dream of the day when aligning with the trajectory of divine creativity captures the imagination of our species; when millions of people, especially young people, are inspired to follow an evolutionary calling that serves the Whole. There will even come a time when peoples throughout the world come to regard as kin those whom their grandparents feared or hated. There will still be trying times; there will still be enormous problems to solve; but these will be regarded as evolutionary catalysts and dealt with head on in a spirit of possibility, openness, and trust.

I imagine a day when the devoutly religious give this book to their nonreligious loved ones saying, “See, God is real and faith is essential”; when scientists share it with their religious loved ones, saying, “See, evolution is divine and science is revelatory”; and when both sides read it and respond, “Oh. Got it. Thank you.”

I pray I live to see the day when billions of human beings will say, “Thank God for evolution!”

Posted on Aug 27, 2008 at 7:37am by Michael Dowd Comment #79

Yours is not a tack that I could take in good conscience; much of the language you’re using sounds odd to me, and I do generally like to use words in their traditional sense. However I do wish you well in your endeavors, and hope that you can change some minds among the religiously-minded. My sense is that one aspect of religion that makes it captivating is the reliance on the supernatural, the notion of an all-knowing father-figure up in the sky, and the notion that we survive death and will get to be with our friends and family forever someday. To the extent that that’s true, your project is not likely to be very successful. As DJ pointed out on the program, the news of science and evolution may be fascinating and mind-expanding, but it isn’t precisely “good news” or “gospel”. Evolution is good in many ways, but it is also red in tooth and claw. If science provides us with anything it is not optimism but realism. And most people would prefer not to face realism, but to choose optimism and then fit the evidence to that picture. Witness the tremendous pushback with global warming to see this sort of thing in action nowadays, with actual science.

But as I say, I wish you the best. Seems to me your heart is in the right place, and you’re taking the effort to a part of the populace that wouldn’t be traditionally open to the message that we’re bringing. That’s definitely a good thing.

Posted on Aug 27, 2008 at 8:00am by dougsmith Comment #80

I regret that I’m coming to this topic so late, because I would like to participate in this dialogue with Michael. From the little I’ve read so far (I haven’t heard D.J.‘s interview), Michael strikes me as a thoroughgoing naturalist who understands the power of symbolism and especially metaphor. I’m not put off by the language, at least not as much as most of my fellow secularists here. On the contrary, I have been arguing for years that by using traditional religious words in ways that really get to the symbolic and psychological roots of their origins, we have an opportunity to invite people to think about religion in new ways.

The essential argument that I see in Michael’s work, so far, is that all religion has its genesis in reality, what we secularists would call naturalism. Well of course it does. Everything has its genesis in reality. Every god-story, every story of a supposedly miraculous event that could never really happen, has its genesis in something that is very real in the world and in the human mind. It might be a fear or an aspiration, but somewhere and somehow it’s grounded in reality and in particular the reality of our experience. Our challenge is to uncover the genesis of the meanings attached to religious words and ideas so that we can distinguish between sound and unsound conclusions, and between fact and fiction.

The most frequent objection is that Michael is using words in a way that throws people off. Good. That’s the point: to get people to think about old ideas in new ways. If a critical mass of people demonstrate that this can be done with integrity, and most especially in a way that really tells us something about where religion comes from and what it is, we will begin to make a major difference in the life of religion.

I do not believe that we should necessarily be antagonistic toward religion. I am antagonistic to religion only insofar as it asserts unsound claims or preaches something other than a thoroughgoing respect for the worth and dignity of all persons. Tragically, the dominant religions in most cultures invite our antagonism. But it needn’t be that way. Michael is one of many people who are trying to change this longstanding and tragic history and create a new religion that is fully grounded in naturalism.

I don’t know how successfully Michael navigates the line between sound and unsound conclusions, but I will return to this topic after listening to D.J.‘s interview and reading what has been written here. And who knows, maybe I will read your book, Michael. Feel free to contact me any time. I’m interested in what you have to say.

Posted on Aug 28, 2008 at 5:19am by PLaClair Comment #81

Paul, I do think you should listen to both interviews with Michael Dowd—DJ did two back-to-back. I think you would find his approach congenial.

Posted on Aug 28, 2008 at 6:07am by dougsmith Comment #82

1) If anyone on this forum knows of anything more important in the coming decades than assisting religious people the world over (especially here in America) in coming to embrace a science-based evolutionary/ecological worldview, please let me know.  I just don’t see it.

Why is helping theists come to terms with “a science-based evolutionary/ecological worldview” more important than addressing economic, political and social injustices? Are you suggesting that the only way of tacking poverty and enviornmental degradation and wars and famines is by helping theists come to terms with evolutionary biology? If not, then what exactly are you suggesting?

Honestly, if theists can’t cope with the fallibility of their doctrines - and considering its supposed to be infallible though based on “faith” i get why they are so resistant on accepting this - then I don’t know what else to say to them.

I am, however, more concerned with enviornmental degradation caused by a form of economic developement that sees the planet as expendable, or militarism that seeks to use brute force to protect the centralized control over the resources that are exploited for the economic developement noted above, and organizational structures of economies that breed inequality and poverty than I am of the coping difficulties of theists with the fact that species comes from a slow evolutionary process and not the will of some mythological deity.

Posted on Aug 28, 2008 at 9:25am by truthaddict Comment #83

1) If anyone on this forum knows of anything more important in the coming decades than assisting religious people the world over (especially here in America) in coming to embrace a science-based evolutionary/ecological worldview, please let me know.  I just don’t see it.

Why is helping theists come to terms with “a science-based evolutionary/ecological worldview” more important than addressing economic, political and social injustices?

I think Dowd is approaching this concern in the same way as Sam Harris.  Religious certainty is dangerous in an increasingly technological world where the weapons of intolerance can be WMDs and other advanced weaponry rather than scimitars and muskets.  I’m just finishing up with the book and I think you’ll find that Dowd’s matches your concerns about the future.  Resolving the issues you raise, Dowd believes, can be accomplished by making theists see science as a way to have a group revelation that is just as awe inspiring as is the Gospel hearsay about a virgin birth.  When we recognize that we are of the earth rather than have dominion over it, Dowd thinks the world would be a better place.  I’m coming around to that line of thinking.

J

Posted on Aug 28, 2008 at 12:46pm by Jason G Comment #84

1) If anyone on this forum knows of anything more important in the coming decades than assisting religious people the world over (especially here in America) in coming to embrace a science-based evolutionary/ecological worldview, please let me know.  I just don’t see it.

Why is helping theists come to terms with “a science-based evolutionary/ecological worldview” more important than addressing economic, political and social injustices?

I think Dowd is approaching this concern in the same way as Sam Harris.  Religious certainty is dangerous in an increasingly technological world where the weapons of intolerance can be WMDs and other advanced weaponry rather than scimitars and muskets.  I’m just finishing up with the book and I think you’ll find that Dowd’s matches your concerns about the future.  Resolving the issues you raise, Dowd believes, can be accomplished by making theists see science as a way to have a group revelation that is just as awe inspiring as is the Gospel hearsay about a virgin birth.  When we recognize that we are of the earth rather than have dominion over it, Dowd thinks the world would be a better place.  I’m coming around to that line of thinking.

J

Thanks for the response!

I dont necessarily disagree with anything you just wrote (though I would like to point out that much of our greatest modern horrors were not due to religious beliefs but rather economic policies), but my comment was driven by a specific question of his to this forum. He asked what is more important than helping theists embrace evolution and I pointed out what seems to me to be the obvious. I am in no way claiming he is not a decent person with decent ambitions for a better world. He certainly seems so. He seems very amicable. I am simply saying that we have much more pressing concerns than whether religious fundamentalists believe in evolution or not.

Like I noted in my parenthesis above, much of our modern horrors were due to economic policies and not religious beliefs.

What happened in China in the mid1900s was economic-based, not religious. The wars, poverty and diseases in Africa are largely due to economic policies and not religion. Our war of aggression in Iraq is due to economic policies and not religion. When Bush signed his most recent signing statement over the defense spending bill it had to do with permanent military bases and controlling Iraqi oil, not converting Muslims to Christianity. The impending demise of the WTO is centered around how the developed countries are imposing unfair economic policies on the developing world and which is producing horrendous results is about economics, not religion.

I dont disagree that it would be nice if religious fundies embraced evolution but its far from our most pressing concern. Again, thanks for the response!

Posted on Aug 28, 2008 at 1:59pm by truthaddict Comment #85

To me, an argument about whether economics or religion is the more important issue is meaningless. It’s like arguing about whether a heart is more important than a brain. If either one stops functioning, you’re dead.

Posted on Aug 28, 2008 at 2:09pm by PLaClair Comment #86

To me, an argument about whether economics or religion is the more important issue is meaningless. It’s like arguing about whether a heart is more important than a brain. If either one stops functioning, you’re dead.

i would be cautious with using anatomy analogies. besides there is nothing wrong with prioritizing. but for the sake of your analogy lets extend it a bit further.

lets say i have heart murmurs and a malignant brain tumor. which is more important in addressing?

but maybe its meaningless because we can address both, which i think we can. but keeping to the specifics of the question i think its apt to point out that we do have more pressing concerns than helping theists to accept evolution.

Posted on Aug 28, 2008 at 2:31pm by truthaddict Comment #87

Why are we talking about human organs?  Mr. Dowd has his defining issue, and that’s fine.  If you’re not interested in the topic, then maybe this thread’s not your thing.

I’d love to hear less static from religious people on something so obviously objectively true as evolution, so I hope he’s successful with at least some of the Protestant crowd that hasn’t yet integrated evolution into their faith.  The Catholic church already seems to have arrived, so I’m not sure there’s much convincing to be done there.

Despite what sounds to me like his confused pretend-theology, I think people like Mr. Dowd and secular types like E. O. Wilson are to be commended for reaching “across the aisle”, if you will.  It’s rare and refreshing to find people working actively to establish productive conversations between secular types and theists on topics that should be commonly regarded as meaningful and valued (or sacred, or whatever).  The new atheists sure as shit aren’t doing a damn bit of good in that department.

Posted on Aug 29, 2008 at 12:19am by Hoobajoob Comment #88

Marriage of Science and Religion…

I have known college thesis advisers who come up with topics for research by arbitrarily concatenating hot buzzwords from disparate areas.
Then suggesting to eager, naive graduate students that they base their research on thinking of a way to make the marriage mean something.
Occasionally it works, and the investment can be so cheap.

Now, imagine if the two disparate areas are “non-overlapping magisteria….”

Where can I find me a grad student intern, in need of direction?

Posted on Aug 30, 2008 at 3:43pm by xtroKEM Comment #89

I listened to D.J. Grothe’s interviews with Michael Dowd and found them fascinating, both because I find Dowd’s ideas intriguing and essential, and because I could “hear” D.J. struggling to understand him. In the main, I thought D.J. conducted excellent interviews. He seemed to be trying very hard to make sense out of what didn’t fully make sense to him. Yet at times, D.J. just wasn’t hearing his guest - not because he wasn’t trying, but because (in my view) religion has done to him what it has done to many of us: it has us tied in knots.

Virtually every secularist would agree that evolution is among history’s greatest and most important ideas. It is the foundation of modern biology, its great organizing principle, the glue that holds the discipline together. Without evolution, you could do some biology but you couldn’t understand it. We understand that, and we champion evolution perhaps more fervently than anyone else.

Yet ironically, we secularists as a group are overlooking many of evolution’s applications. The evolutionary principle governs not just biology, but every dynamic system, from social relationships to economics to politics to religion to sports and games. The entire discipline of game theory, with all its offshoots, is a riff on evolution.

If that is true — and I am convinced beyond a doubt that it is — then we cannot understand religion without understanding the evolutionary principle. As Dowd puts it: “If we think that we as a species are going to move into the future that we’re gonna drop all metaphorical language, we have no understanding of the nature of language. That won’t happen.”

To understand religion in its evolutionary context, we must understand how its elements evolve: its ideas, its practices, its attitudes and its language, among other things. Analogize each of these to a part of a strand of DNA. If our objection to Buddhism is the non-natural-ness of reincarnation, that is no reason for us to want to eliminate Buddhism’s meditative practices or its ethics of trying to end suffering. If in a particular Christian denomination we like the attitudes, practices and social ethics but don’t like the non-natural ideation, there’s no reason for us to want to convince these Christians to stop living out a social commitment, or not to sing or dance or celebrate in community with each other.

The same is true of religious language, and the central question we should ask ourselves should be informed by an understanding of how evolutionary principles apply to religion. Many of our members are put off by and don’t like using “religious words.” Think about that in an evolutionary context (i.e., think about it in the context of reality).

If we don’t use those words, they are not going to disappear. As Dowd puts it: “If we think that we as a species are going to move into the future that we’re gonna drop all metaphorical language, we have no understanding of the nature of language. That won’t happen.”

If we refuse to use those words, all we do is isolate ourselves: generally and from perfectly good religious attitudes, ethics, practices, etc. Some of us don’t even like to sing because singing somehow conjures up visions of the dreaded R-thing. That is not a winning evolutionary strategy. Just the opposite, it’s a dead loser, and the proof of that is in our numbers and the low esteem in which we are held.

What Dowd is saying, as I understand him, is that it’s not necessary to discard the baby with the bath water; in fact, as is clear when you really think about that, it’s a very bad idea. Quoting Dowd again: “All I’m suggesting is that the facts of science, the empirical data of 14 billion years of evolution, can be interpreted meaninglessly or it can be interpreted in a deeply meaningful way. Connie and I believe that for us as a species to survive into the future, we’re going to have to find ways so that every religious tradition interprets the same facts, the same evidence, the same data of science, but freely uses the mythic night language of their tradition in such a way that they embrace just an evolutionary world view . . .”

In other words, he wants to use evolution to move the religions into a reality-based world view. He might give a different answer if religion wasn’t so pervasive. But in this world and with this species, we’re going to have to work with what we have. And the way I see it, there are plenty of good things about religion (not theism, per se).

Here’s the essence of Dowd’s argument as I understand it, including an instance where D.J. wasn’t understanding him.
Dowd: “If evolution is not mythologized in the next fifty years, we are screwed as a species. . . When I say ‘mythologized’ what I’m meaning is interpreted in ways that inspire people to cooperate, that inspire people to live lives of integrity, of compassion, of generosity and this sort of thing.”
DJ: “Right, you’re saying religion is literally true, factually true, scientifically valid to you, but you want to spruce it up so that it demands the commitments of people that religion normally did.”
Dowd: “I would agree with that, except that I would say not so much that I want to spruce it up, but that we can’t not interpret it. And so whether we interpret it meaninglessly, and try to say that there is no meaning to evolution, it’s just all this random chance, whatever - that’s an interpretation. See, the interesting thing about living as animals in symbolic language is that we can’t not interpret. So what I am suggesting is that how we interpret the facts is going to make a difference personally and especially in terms of the decades before us.”

I think Dowd is right. In fact, this is essentially the argument Calvin Chatlos has been making and I’ve been making for years. I’m sorry Michael isn’t here right now, but maybe others will be interested in continuing this. I think he’s spot on.

Posted on Aug 30, 2008 at 6:48pm by PLaClair Comment #90

People don’t give a flying hoot about evolution not because they can’t, Paul, but because they don’t want to. (Actually it is precisely because they can’t, but let’s forget about free will and evolutionary psychology for a moment.) To accept evolution means to embrace the fact that you are on your own, your life doesn’t hold any special meaning (i.e. pleasing you Creator, achieving immortality, etc.), and it ends with death. There is no middle ground here. Try to “mythologize” a breakup with your girlfriend — you’ll be equally successful.

Posted on Aug 30, 2008 at 10:23pm by George Comment #91

People don’t give a flying hoot about evolution not because they can’t, Paul, but because they don’t want to. (Actually it is precisely because they can’t, but let’s forget about free will and evolutionary psychology for a moment.) To accept evolution means to embrace the fact that you are on your own, your life doesn’t hold any special meaning (i.e. pleasing you Creator, achieving immortality, etc.), and it ends with death. There is no middle ground here. Try to “mythologize” a breakup with your girlfriend — you’ll be equally successful.

There’s a lot of truth in that, George, but the reasons I’m so insistent that religion isn’t just one thing are (1) it’s the truth and (2) religion has dozens of hooks: practice, ethics, associations with community, etc.

You just limited evolution to biological evolution, and that’s not accurate. There are other ways of getting people to understand and appreciate the evolutionary principle. If we can hook it to their practices, for example, we can make progress. Once it’s firmly grounded in their minds from that perspective, we have a better chance of getting them to understand and accept evolution of species.

It’s also not entirely accurate to say that evolution means life doesn’t hold any special meaning. Many people have held onto their belief in a creator-god even though they accepted and understood evolution: Ken Miller, the biologist from Brown University, is an example. When you argue there’s no middle ground, that is demonstrably false, and it’s contrary to our most basic understanding of evolution: it’s like arguing there’s no middle ground between a monkey and a human. Dr. Miller is just one of millions of counterexamples. And even for me, I think I understand what you mean by “special meaning,” but I may not see it as you do. As far as I’m concerned, life is about as special as it gets. It’s an attitude, George. It doesn’t require any particular belief one way or the other. Isn’t your argument an example of a certain degree of dogmatism and one dimensional thinking? It’s pretty clear to me that many secularists absolutely insist on seeing everything in terms of rock-ribbed belief and denying that anything else is going on; we know for a fact that plenty of other things are going on.

Besides, what would you have us do? Give up?

Posted on Aug 31, 2008 at 3:51am by PLaClair Comment #92

There is no middle ground here. Try to “mythologize” a breakup with your girlfriend — you’ll be equally successful.

Most respectfully, this is also demonstrably false. Take Michael Dowd’s definition of mythologize: “When I say ‘mythologized’ what I’m meaning is interpreted in ways that inspire people to cooperate, that inspire people to live lives of integrity, of compassion, of generosity and this sort of thing.”

Do you mean to tell me that a man can’t draw any lessons from a breakup with a girlfriend; that he can’t be inspired by it; that he can’t derive meaning from it; that he can’t grow from it; that it can’t change the way he sees things or thinks about things or acts or feels? I don’t think you mean that, yet that’s what you said.

If you didn’t mean that, then why did you say that? At risk of pissing you off, George, I’m going to surmise that it has to do with an attitude toward religion.

Posted on Aug 31, 2008 at 4:57am by PLaClair Comment #93

When you argue there’s no middle ground, that is demonstrably false, ...

I think there is a middle ground in the argument about whether there is a middle ground…

Posted on Aug 31, 2008 at 10:26am by Jackson Comment #94

It’s a muddle puddle.

Posted on Aug 31, 2008 at 12:58pm by xtroKEM Comment #95

To accept evolution means to embrace the fact that you are on your own, your life doesn’t hold any special meaning (i.e. pleasing your Creator, achieving immortality, etc.), and it ends with death. There is no middle ground here.

This seems such a superficial myth. 

What reasons are there for the dogmatic statement that if you don’t believe in a judgmental god and a heavenly host, there’s nothing, just you and the empty abyss?

Within the world of my own “mythologizing,”  I see the incredible heritage that went into making me.  As, Dowd points out you can follow your heritage back to the Big Bang - thus you could conceive of yourself containing a seed of the center of universe within yourself - each of us and everything.  It’s beautiful, mythical, yet rock solid (although rocks aren’t ;-) ) within science reality -> and it conveys a visceral* connection if you are open to it.

Then, the whole progression of evolution
- although Gould can do a wonderful job of explaining the mathematics of the randomness of progress -
the shear unrelenting direction of evolution’s successes -> force mythological resonances within any romantic, art/music appreciating personality.

Then, the whole matter of relentlessly recycling elements.  How our actual substance is in a constant cascade from here to who knows where.

Then, our thoughts and deeds, our family and friends and community, we do leave something living for them.

Even the spark of our bio-chemo-electrical life force that runs through every cell.

I had a wonderful inspiration a couple decades back—I realized that “the white light” that was so often talked about in near death experience - could be explained within scientific constraints - with a mind experiment. 
It is undesputed that electrical energy courses through your cells unceasingly, until your death. 
Energy isn’t created or destroyed, merely transformed.
When your life force (i.e. energy) leaves your cells and melds back into the background field, wouldn’t that union be brilliant white… energy meeting energy.  And it carries an echo of who you were. **

All this and a couple other things, leave me feeling the whole concept of the (scientific) nothingness of our existence really needs to undergo some radical transformation.

=======================
**dear scientists, please don’t beat me up too much, at least not without considering this is a poetic rendition, not a claim to reproducible fact ;-)

———————————————————————-
*I use visceral a lot to convey that spiritual energy that grabs you literally through the guts. 
And to my own mythology that this sensation is a direct connection with the forces of the universe…... whatever that may be.

Posted on Aug 31, 2008 at 7:31pm by citizenschallenge Comment #96

Interesting conversation which shows just how varied the perceptions and worldviews, some broad and some narrow, can be with a topic of this nature.  I will not debate the various opinions and thoughts expressed so far because it would go on and on and on… However I would like to add another view or comment that I’m not sure has previously been covered.  What takes place on this planet, both good and bad, is immensely affected by the complicated nature of life and the human species and what influences the actions of humans is a huge part of that story.  Evolution, as a force of nature or God or ultimate reality or whatever mythic entity fits your worldview, is a force to be reckoned with and understood in all its complexity.  Here is my concern – due to this complex nature of life the world as a whole is faced with the very real challenge of educating its young.  The success of meeting this challenge is dependent on a wide array of issues all of which present varied difficulties that only time, innovative ideas and a lot of focused energy and economic resources will begin to resolve.  The reason I am bringing up this view and how it relates to the mission Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow is provoked by the very fortunate opportunity I recently had to spend a weekend with Michael and Connie as part of a small group of people.  We spent many hours together hearing their story (I had read his book previously) and I have to admit that I was deeply moved by the passion that underlies their mission in life.  Some of their teachings are actually targeted for children and are quite innovative.  As I reflected on the experience of that weekend plus watching many hours of their videos subsequently I realize that the power of the presentation of the evolutionary story that they promote is immense with special emphasis on the influence it can have on children who will be part of our future generations that will have to deal with the problems of the world.  I don’t like to use religious or secular labels to define myself so I won’t.  Leave it said that I am a citizen of this Earth, I care deeply about the condition of the awesome natural world that shares this living space on Earth with us and I am very concerned that future generations share a common worldview and a deep awareness of this complex and interconnected web of life.  Even though Michael and Connie define there mission as focused on the Christian world I believe their story has ultimate applicability on all walks of life and may some day have a much broader impact in whatever form it evolves into.  If I may I’ll finish with a little Indian wisdom - “This we know: Earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth.  All things are connected like the blood that unites us all.  Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it.  Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”  CHIEF SEATTLE

Posted on Sep 01, 2008 at 10:18am by rhlrogge Comment #97

Back from Hawaii.  Great thread!  Paul, email me and let’s set up a time to talk on the phone.  I deeply appreciate and am fully aligned with all you’ve written above the last few days.  I’m real busy this week so won’t have much time to engage in written conversations (I type pretty slowly), but I’d love to spend a half hour or more with you on the phone.

Co-evolutionarily, 

~ Michael
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (just ignore the auto-response message you’ll get)

PS. George, by virtue of the fact that you have a neocortex, you actually cannot NOT mythologize a breakup with your girlfriend. I’m using the word “mythologize” in a fairly standard sense: “meaningful interpretation” or “the story we tell ourselves about an event or experience that gives it meaning for us.”

Posted on Sep 01, 2008 at 4:12pm by Michael Dowd Comment #98

1) If anyone on this forum knows of anything more important in the coming decades than assisting religious people the world over (especially here in America) in coming to embrace a science-based evolutionary/ecological worldview, please let me know.  I just don’t see it.

Why is helping theists come to terms with “a science-based evolutionary/ecological worldview” more important than addressing economic, political and social injustices? Are you suggesting that the only way of tacking poverty and enviornmental degradation and wars and famines is by helping theists come to terms with evolutionary biology? If not, then what exactly are you suggesting?

————————————————————————————-

I believe it’s very important because the dogma of a literal six day creation creates a bubble around its believers.
This bubble is a barrier to serious appreciation of the scientific process.

People who buy into the Creationist thing, believe that reality is a product of their perception… wishful thinking -
“if you can believe it hard enough - it is so.”

The first step toward a public that can seriously evaluate the flow of scientific information, is popping that barrier to reason.

Posted on Sep 01, 2008 at 5:49pm by citizenschallenge Comment #99

At risk of pissing you off, George, I’m going to surmise that it has to do with an attitude toward religion.

That, and much more. I too can appreciate the mystery of the Cosmos, but I wouldn’t go any further than Sagan did. I despise any form of ideology, be it religion, communism, or even some forms of humanism. I am not a very logical and practical man, and I can get unncesarily emotional, but perhas I just don’t have the naïveté gene in me.

Posted on Sep 01, 2008 at 6:56pm by George Comment #100

At risk of pissing you off, George, I’m going to surmise that it has to do with an attitude toward religion.

That, and much more. I too can appreciate the mystery of the Cosmos, but I wouldn’t go any further than Sagan did. I despise any form of ideology, be it religion, communism, or even some forms of humanism. I am not a very logical and practical man, and I can get unncesarily emotional, but perhas I just don’t have the naïveté gene in me.

But George, as Michael points out, it ain’t so. You can’t not mythologize the breakup with the girlfriend. How do you respond to that? I don’t see any point in engaging in the discussion if the main points are just going to be ignored.

I know I’m inclined to push people, and it’s not well-received. I get that. It’s my failing. Yet I just wonder, George, whether you might say “Hmmm, that’s an interesting point about how you can’t not mythologize the events in your life. I don’t understand so let’s ask some questions.” Why didn’t that happen?

(Turn the page. New subject)
If you were moved to tears about the cosmos and wrote a beautiful song about it, would that be going too far?

Would your answer change if you knew that your song would “inspire” a million people to watch Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot”?

What about if it inspired ten million people to buy his “Cosmos” DVDs and watch from from beginning to end?

How about if you wrote a symphony?

Posted on Sep 01, 2008 at 7:53pm by PLaClair Comment #101

What cannot not be mythologize is not worth discussing in this tread. I was wrong to use the girlfriend analogy as most people indeed get over a breakup and move on. Sure, they realize they better spend their energy on meeting somebody new. We were programmed by natural selection to behave this way. I still believe that most religious people are genetically predisposed to believe in god (these are the same people who also believe in psychics, astrology, conspiracy theories, etc.) and evolution will simply not replace what faith in an omniscient being has to offer. I am not sure what goes on in Ken Miller’s head, but I see god and evolution as completely incompatible. Life is not just (as much as I dislike using that phrase) and it only becomes more obvious once you understand evolution and natural selection. Where god fits in, I have no idea.

And songs and symphonies are fine. Songs and symphonies are not god.

Posted on Sep 02, 2008 at 7:40am by George Comment #102

What cannot not be mythologize is not worth discussing in this tread. I was wrong to use the girlfriend analogy as most people indeed get over a breakup and move on. Sure, they realize they better spend their energy on meeting somebody new. We were programmed by natural selection to behave this way. I still believe that most religious people are genetically predisposed to believe in god (these are the same people who also believe in psychics, astrology, conspiracy theories, etc.) and evolution will simply not replace what faith in an omniscient being has to offer. I am not sure what goes on in Ken Miller’s head, but I see god and evolution as completely incompatible. Life is not just (as much as I dislike using that phrase) and it only becomes more obvious once you understand evolution and natural selection. Where god fits in, I have no idea.

And songs and symphonies are fine. Songs and symphonies are not god.

The fact that they get over it and move on isn’t what mythologizing is all about. It’s about interpreting the experience. That interpretation then has its effects.

You may be right about genetic predispositions to believe in god, but a predisposition is not a guarantee that the person will hold the belief. You keep limiting evolution to evolution of species. There’s no basis for doing that.

For example, there’s no incompatibility between belief in a god-being and belief in the evolution of social behavior. If certain behaviors are rewarded, they will become more commonplace. That’s evolution at work, and I doubt that you’ll get much disagreement from even the most die-hard theists as long as you don’t call it evolution.

So if we can get the evolutionary principle out there not only in its biological applications, but in its social applications, then people will begin to understand it better and think about it more often. If that happens enough, they’ll begin to see its application to biological evolution whether they want to or not. Patterns will begin to form in their thinking and will literally be carved into their brains. Then we’ll have a better chance of overcoming whatever genetic predispositions they may have to resist.

Posted on Sep 02, 2008 at 8:43am by PLaClair Comment #103

So if we can get the evolutionary principle out there not only in its biological applications, but in its social applications, then people will begin to understand it better and think about it more often. If that happens enough, they’ll begin to see its application to biological evolution whether they want to or not. Patterns will begin to form in their thinking and will literally be carved into their brains. Then we’ll have a better chance of overcoming whatever genetic predispositions they may have to resist.

I am sure especially the single parents living on minimum wage in apartments covered with mold can’t wait to begin to carve patterns of evolution into their brains. Good luck, Paul and Michael.

Posted on Sep 02, 2008 at 1:58pm by George Comment #104

So if we can get the evolutionary principle out there not only in its biological applications, but in its social applications, then people will begin to understand it better and think about it more often. If that happens enough, they’ll begin to see its application to biological evolution whether they want to or not. Patterns will begin to form in their thinking and will literally be carved into their brains. Then we’ll have a better chance of overcoming whatever genetic predispositions they may have to resist.

I am sure especially the single parents living on minimum wage in apartments covered with mold can’t wait to begin to carve patterns of evolution into their brains. Good luck, Paul and Michael.

I can hardly believe I’m reading this. If that’s our attitude, we might as well close the schools.

Posted on Sep 02, 2008 at 4:29pm by PLaClair Comment #105

You have already done that in Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. :smirk:

Posted on Sep 02, 2008 at 7:54pm by George Comment #106

You have already done that in Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. :smirk:

I have closed the schools in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans? I doubt that you really mean that. Yet you wrote it.

This has become a fascinating but disturbing exchange. Something’s going on to prompt you to write that, George. What is it?

Posted on Sep 02, 2008 at 9:06pm by PLaClair Comment #107

George,

I evangelize evolution (that is, I tell the history of cosmos, Earth, life, and humanity in as inspiring ways as I can while remaining true to the facts) for the very same reason as your signature line suggests:

“Man will become better when you show him what he is like.” - A. P. Chekhov

Over the last decade, I’ve spoken to tens of thousands of people from all walks of life - liberals, conservatives, rich, poor, atheist, fundamentalist Christian, Catholic, Buddhist, Hindu etc) and I can say from experience that the vast majority of people respond quite enthusiastically when they come to realize that they, personally, are the universe becoming conscious of itself.  They also respond favorably to many other aspects of what I cover in my book and programs - especially the sections on evolutionary psychology and evolutionary brain science (which is essentially showing them what they are like and why) and what we can expect in the next 250 years, given long-term and short-term trends.

I don’t expect you to necessarily value what I do, nor to think that I will succeed in my endeavors. But I can tell you truthfully that teaching and preaching the epic of evolution (the history of the universe as a modern-day creation myth) in inspiring ways is what Connie and I feel compelled to do with our lives. And the feedback we consistently get from audiences of all kinds, from the very religious to the rabidly anti-reliigious, is off the charts positive.  But don’t take my word on it.  If you care to, you can see for yourself. Here’s a link to DVDs of some of our best and most popular programs (each DVD is four hours and we give people the right to burn copies for the friends and relatives, if they so desire): http://thankgodforevolution.com/store

Co-evolutionarily,

~ Michael

Posted on Sep 03, 2008 at 6:39am by Michael Dowd Comment #108

You have already done that in Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. :smirk:

I have closed the schools in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans? I doubt that you really mean that. Yet you wrote it.

This has become a fascinating but disturbing exchange. Something’s going on to prompt you to write that, George. What is it?

I wrote that out of despair, Paul. One can only hold on to some higher ideals until you see what the world is actually made of.

Posted on Sep 03, 2008 at 7:34am by George Comment #109

Michael,

I now have to read your book. I should have probably done that before posting in this thread.

Posted on Sep 03, 2008 at 7:46am by George Comment #110

I wrote that out of despair, Paul. One can only hold on to some higher ideals until you see what the world is actually made of.

No, one can hold onto higher ideals even knowing that one day we’re going to die, and as far as we know that’s the end of us. One can do that if one chooses.

Despair is a dead-flat loser, in every way. George, we may both be secularists but I would sooner cast my lot with the theists. If nothing else, can’t we bring a positive attitude to our lives so that we can enjoy them before we keel over and rot?

Posted on Sep 03, 2008 at 8:01am by PLaClair Comment #111

I wrote that out of despair, Paul. One can only hold on to some higher ideals until you see what the world is actually made of.

No, one can hold onto higher ideals even knowing that one day we’re going to die, and as far as we know that’s the end of us. One can do that if one chooses.

Despair is a dead-flat loser, in every way. George, we may both be secularists but I would sooner cast my lot with the theists. If nothing else, can’t we bring a positive attitude to our lives so that we can enjoy them before we keel over and rot?

Despair as an end point is indeed a loser, as you so aptly put it. But as part of a process, it can be very productive. Stripped of illusions and driven to despair, a human being
can push beyond despair and discover a rich and committed life, though not necessarily one that is “meaningful” in any teleological sense. It brings me to mind of what Sartre
said: “Freedom begins on the other side of despair.” I believe there’s a lot of truth in that.

Posted on Sep 03, 2008 at 8:28am by steveg144 Comment #112

If nothing else, can’t we bring a positive attitude to our lives so that we can enjoy them before we keel over and rot?

Okay. But let us proceed cautiously when promoting this positive attitude. You know, Marx and Christ also meant us well.

Posted on Sep 03, 2008 at 8:52am by George Comment #113

Okay. But let us proceed cautiously when promoting this positive attitude. You know, Marx and Christ also meant us well.

The problem with Marx and Christ, and many others who followed similar programs, was not a positive attitude per se, but rather messianism or perhaps better, utopianism. The romantic search for absolute perfection is misguided, and in my opinion usually pernicious. In practice it leads to puritanism and brittle ideologies, of whatever sort.

The perfect is the enemy of the good. I urge very strongly that we pursue the good, and dispense with perfection. Realism is our best method, although it yields no certain promises.

Posted on Sep 03, 2008 at 9:11am by dougsmith Comment #114

I wrote that out of despair, Paul. One can only hold on to some higher ideals until you see what the world is actually made of.

No, one can hold onto higher ideals even knowing that one day we’re going to die, and as far as we know that’s the end of us. One can do that if one chooses.

Despair is a dead-flat loser, in every way. George, we may both be secularists but I would sooner cast my lot with the theists. If nothing else, can’t we bring a positive attitude to our lives so that we can enjoy them before we keel over and rot?

Despair as an end point is indeed a loser, as you so aptly put it. But as part of a process, it can be very productive. Stripped of illusions and driven to despair, a human being
can push beyond despair and discover a rich and committed life, though not necessarily one that is “meaningful” in any teleological sense. It brings me to mind of what Sartre
said: “Freedom begins on the other side of despair.” I believe there’s a lot of truth in that.

Point well taken, Steve. I could nitpick and say there are no endpoints except death, but if I understand you to mean that we don’t want to be permanently or habitually or usually in despair, then I concur.

Posted on Sep 03, 2008 at 9:17am by PLaClair Comment #115

If nothing else, can’t we bring a positive attitude to our lives so that we can enjoy them before we keel over and rot?

Okay. But let us proceed cautiously when promoting this positive attitude. You know, Marx and Christ also meant us well.

Shouldn’t we be equally or more cautious about a negative attitude? After all, an attitude is part emotion and as such is not rational. A negative emotion is no more rational than a positive one and can often freeze a person into inaction. This is one of the characteristic features of depression and a main reason depression is considered a psychiatric illness.

Posted on Sep 03, 2008 at 9:21am by PLaClair Comment #116

If nothing else, can’t we bring a positive attitude to our lives so that we can enjoy them before we keel over and rot?

Okay. But let us proceed cautiously when promoting this positive attitude. You know, Marx and Christ also meant us well.

Shouldn’t we be equally or more cautious about a negative attitude? After all, an attitude is part emotion and as such is not rational. A negative emotion is no more rational than a positive one and can often freeze a person into inaction. This is one of the characteristic features of depression and a main reason depression is considered a psychiatric illness.

True, but depressed people tend to be dangerous mostly to themselves and those in their immediate vicinity. The blissed-out ravings of some “idealist” whose heart is filled
with “love for the people”, well now you’re talking a serious body count (cf. Robespierre, Mao, Che, et al).

Posted on Sep 03, 2008 at 11:19am by steveg144 Comment #117

True, but depressed people tend to be dangerous mostly to themselves and those in their immediate vicinity. The blissed-out ravings of some “idealist” whose heart is filled with “love for the people”, well now you’re talking a serious body count (cf. Robespierre, Mao, Che, et al).

That’s because most depressed people don’t do anything. We can’t build a good world with that. And of course, there are the serial killers who get depressed and just start shooting.

If Europeans had never wanted anything, we might never have had slavery or the decimation of the Native American peoples. But in that state of affairs, we wouldn’t have modern medicine or much of our technology either. In no way do I mean to suggest that slavery or genocide were justified by the result; they were not, even if it means that we wouldn’t be where we are today, in my view. But I do mean that a positive attitude is desirable.

Posted on Sep 03, 2008 at 1:48pm by PLaClair Comment #118

I wrote that out of despair, Paul. One can only hold on to some higher ideals until you see what the world is actually made of.

No, one can hold onto higher ideals even knowing that one day we’re going to die, and as far as we know that’s the end of us. One can do that if one chooses.

Despair is a dead-flat loser, in every way. George, we may both be secularists but I would sooner cast my lot with the theists. If nothing else, can’t we bring a positive attitude to our lives so that we can enjoy them before we keel over and rot?

Despair as an end point is indeed a loser, as you so aptly put it. But as part of a process, it can be very productive. Stripped of illusions and driven to despair, a human being
can push beyond despair and discover a rich and committed life, though not necessarily one that is “meaningful” in any teleological sense. It brings me to mind of what Sartre
said: “Freedom begins on the other side of despair.” I believe there’s a lot of truth in that.

Point well taken, Steve. I could nitpick and say there are no endpoints except death, but if I understand you to mean that we don’t want to be permanently or habitually or usually in despair, then I concur.

We could nitpick and say there’s no death… only the spiral of time and cascades of regurgitation.

ps. good point Steve.

Posted on Sep 03, 2008 at 3:04pm by citizenschallenge Comment #119

Our glorious future if Dowd succeeds-

Evolutionists Flock To Darwin-Shaped Wall Stain
http://www.theonion.com/content/news/evolutionists_flock_to_darwin

=P

Posted on Sep 06, 2008 at 3:46am by sate Comment #120

Our glorious future if Dowd succeeds-

Evolutionists Flock To Darwin-Shaped Wall Stain
http://www.theonion.com/content/news/evolutionists_flock_to_darwin

=P

I don’t know if you’re being serious, but if you are, then you don’t understand Michael’s argument. He’s arguing for a naturalistic world view that pays particular attention to the evolutionary principle. People who truly have such a world view won’t be venerating an image on a wall, for that would be contrary to the core of what they understand. People who do not understand evolution are the ones who think things happen by magic. That’s one of Michael’s main points. This may have been the satirical point the onion was trying to get at, and maybe you are too (it’s hard to tell when people are making a joke sometimes): naturalists don’t fall into rapture over images of the people who started their central disciplines.

Posted on Sep 06, 2008 at 4:20am by PLaClair Comment #121

It’s no accident that the party that opposes evolution is also the most hypocritical. Every politician is capable of hypocrisy and double standards, but the Republican party has elevated it to an art form. With the Republicans, lying has become routine, tactical behavior—- there’s an evolutionary understanding in that, but not in the ditto-heads who eat it up. Watch this segment from The Daily Show, one of Stewart’s most incisive and funniest: http://www.thedailyshow.com/video/index.jhtml?videoId=184086

As a group, with some but not nearly enough exceptions, Republicans not only don’t understand the relationship between things and ideas; they’re invested in denying it. I suspect this is what Michael means when he says we’re screwed if we don’t successfully change the way people think about evolution.

Perversely, one of the reasons Obama isn’t getting 70% support in the polls is that he does understand the relationship between thoughts and ideas - he gets the evolutionary principle better than his opponents, but they’re using it against him through the people’s ignorance. That’s one of the many things that makes the stakes in this presidential election so high, and the current dynamics so revolting.

Posted on Sep 06, 2008 at 5:41am by PLaClair Comment #122

It’s no accident that the party that opposes evolution is also the most hypocritical.

I think this is a subjective opinion.  I think Eliot Spitzer was remarkably hypocritical, as the famous state attorney general then-governor.  And I think “hypocritical” is related to the individual not the party so that generalizing is improper just like racial or gender stereotyping.

Posted on Sep 06, 2008 at 3:29pm by Jackson Comment #123

It’s no accident that the party that opposes evolution is also the most hypocritical.

I think this is a subjective opinion.  I think Eliot Spitzer was remarkably hypocritical, as the famous state attorney general then-governor.  And I think “hypocritical” is related to the individual not the party so that generalizing is improper just like racial or gender stereotyping.

1) Almost everything said here is a subjective opinion. and?
2) There is an abundance of evidence of hypocrisy in the GOP at many levels and branches. The party that championed family values lead the parade of morale & legal scandals. They trumpeted the virtue of states rights for years until they got control of the federal government at which point the GOP-lead Congress passed legislation to interfer in both the personal lives of Terry Shivo’s family and in Florida state law. The party that has long bellowed about the evil of Big Government and excessive spending has expanded both the government and spending to record-breaking levels. The problem with labeling a party as hypocritical is not that no objective measures prove it, but that its hard to differentiate it from any other political party as such.
3) There is nothing wrong with stereotypes in certain domains of thought, including science. In fact it isn’t clear what research can even mean if you arn’t allowed to determine what is meant by “typical” for ... anything, including genders and ethnographic groups. This does not change the social requirement to respect individuals and I find the implicit suggestion small-minded and obtuse. I respect women as individuals because I assume that is what most of them prefer.. which is a bit of a stereotype isn’t it? Perhaps I should stop.

Posted on Sep 06, 2008 at 3:54pm by sate Comment #124

1) Almost everything said here is a subjective opinion. and?

I disagree with your statement —-  but perhaps the definition of “almost everything” is intended to be subjective.

Posted on Sep 06, 2008 at 7:07pm by Jackson Comment #125

It’s no accident that the party that opposes evolution is also the most hypocritical.

I think this is a subjective opinion.  I think Eliot Spitzer was remarkably hypocritical, as the famous state attorney general then-governor.  And I think “hypocritical” is related to the individual not the party so that generalizing is improper just like racial or gender stereotyping.

I respectfully disagree. There are examples of personal hypocrisy in both parties.

I’m referring to hypocrisy related to policy issues. What sets the Republican party feet and toes below even the Democrats in its willingness to appeal to low stupid in the electorate, its consistent dishonesty and its practiced ignorance. Hell, they’ve made ignorance something to be proud of!

They’ve read Hitler’s playbook, realized it works and adopted it. If they want to hold power—- and they want that more than anything else—- they have no other choice. The monied interests that traditionally ran the Republican party, and largely still do, have gotten into bed with the racists (Nixon’s Southern strategy after adoption of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights act) and the religious right. There’s no other way for the monied interests to hold power. Having sold their souls, or perhaps having misplaced them, lying is no big deal. So Rupert Murdoch buys all the “news” sources he can and uses them to lie to the people, Faux News being just one example.

Of course, if you say that, you must be a radical or at the very least hyperventilating. This is exactly what they’re counting on: that people will give them a pass just because they own newspapers and TV and radio stations, and discount the view of anyone who says honestly just how despicable their behavior is. (I’m going out of my way not to make it personal.) “Everybody gets to have an opinion. Calm down, and let’s be civil to each other—- unless we don’t want to be.” So just lie through your teeth and people will believe it at least half the time, especially if the only thing you care about is telling people what they want to hear so they’ll go along with what you want to do. Energy independence as the moral equivalent of war? Piffle, my gas is cheap - until it isn’t, and then suddenly the party with the closest ties to the oil companies is the answer to the problem they made sure we had. Taxes, schmaxes. Tell the people you’re against them no matter what. It works. National health care? What?! You want a bureaucracy running things and someone other than your doctor deciding on your medical treatment? You can’t trust the government to look out for you, but you can trust T. Boone Pickens. He has your best interests at heart. Evolution? No waaay, baby! It’s God on a turtle all the way down!

Oh, and make sure you repeat it many, many times. If you forget how to do it, just pick up a copy of Mein Kampf. It’s all in there.

Anyone who hasn’t seen Paddy Chayefsky’s film “Network” from the mid-1970s: do not pass Go, see it immediately. It predicts these past thirty years with chilling accuracy.

Posted on Sep 06, 2008 at 7:57pm by PLaClair Comment #126

... just pick up a copy of Mein Kampf. It’s all in there.

Anyone who hasn’t seen Paddy Chayefsky’s film “Network” from the mid-1970s: do not pass Go, see it immediately. It predicts these past thirty years with chilling accuracy.

Yes,  the tools and mechanisms of propaganda are non-partisan, and both parties use them—generally with good results, given the tendency of the proles to soak up propaganda with slack-jawed credulity.

Given that everyone uses pretty much the same mechanisms of propaganda, I guess the big differentiator is whether what that propaganda promoted is “good” or “evil”.
FDR and Churchill used propaganda as effectively as did Hitler and Stalin, but one would have to admit this does not make them “the same”, yes?

Posted on Sep 07, 2008 at 2:45am by steveg144 Comment #127

... just pick up a copy of Mein Kampf. It’s all in there.

Anyone who hasn’t seen Paddy Chayefsky’s film “Network” from the mid-1970s: do not pass Go, see it immediately. It predicts these past thirty years with chilling accuracy.

Yes,  the tools and mechanisms of propaganda are non-partisan, and both parties use them—generally with good results, given the tendency of the proles to soak up propaganda with slack-jawed credulity.

Given that everyone uses pretty much the same mechanisms of propaganda, I guess the big differentiator is whether what that propaganda promoted is “good” or “evil”.
FDR and Churchill used propaganda as effectively as did Hitler and Stalin, but one would have to admit this does not make them “the same”, yes?

No, the parties are not the same in this, probably for the reasons I explained earlier. Most professionals (e.g., journalists and others who watch politics on a professional level) agree that the Republicans consistently win the prizes for lying. When Ross Perot ran for president in 1992, he noted that both parties were dishonest, but the Republicans were doing it to a different degree and at a different level. Perot was peculiar, but as a self-made billionaire, he wasn’t stupid.

This time, for example, Palin is claiming she turned down the money for the bridge to nowhere because she wouldn’t take money for a worthless project. She also claims that she opposes earmarks. She’s lying. She supported it until she saw that Alaska would have to help fund it.
http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2008/09/01/1317980.aspx
http://www.reuters.com/article/vcCandidateFeed7/idUSN3125537020080901

John McCain said in his acceptance speech that Obama has never reached across the aisle to work on legislation. He was lying. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/the-trail/2008/07/15/mccain_backer_lugar_calls_obam.html
There are several other examples, including McCain’s statement about Obama’s position on nuclear energy.

This isn’t stretching the truth. This isn’t exaggerating. This is lying. The Republicans do it every election cycle, and in between elections they do it too. WMDs in Iraq is just one example.

Posted on Sep 07, 2008 at 4:20am by PLaClair Comment #128

This isn’t stretching the truth. This isn’t exaggerating. This is lying. The Republicans do it every election cycle, and in between elections they do it too. WMDs in Iraq is just one example.

And that blatant lying every election cycle seems to work pretty well for them. Go back to FDR and, counting forward, look at two things: the number of years each party has spent in the White House; and the number of two-term Presidents for each party. Whatever one may say about the GOP’s blatant lying—and this life-long Democrat and proud progressive agrees, they lie blatantly and they lie all the time, almost as a reflex—the simple truth of it is,  at the end of the day their tactics work. The numbers don’t lie. I don’t like it, it infuriates me, but the GOP has made a lot of political hay working on the assumption that the American Prole is dumber than a bag of rocks.  When one sees the way that brainless, almost childlike demagoguery achieves such stunning results year after year after year,  one begins to understand why The Founders had such a deep fear of “the mob”.

Posted on Sep 07, 2008 at 4:51am by steveg144 Comment #129

And that blatant lying every election cycle seems to work pretty well for them. Go back to FDR and, counting forward, look at two things: the number of years each party has spent in the White House; and the number of two-term Presidents for each party. Whatever one may say about the GOP’s blatant lying—and this life-long Democrat and proud progressive agrees, they lie blatantly and they lie all the time, almost as a reflex—the simple truth of it is,  at the end of the day their tactics work. The numbers don’t lie. I don’t like it, it infuriates me, but the GOP has made a lot of political hay working on the assumption that the American Prole is dumber than a bag of rocks.  When one sees the way that brainless, almost childlike demagoguery achieves such stunning results year after year after year,  one begins to understand why The Founders had such a deep fear of “the mob”.

You’re right, it does work for them, which is why they do it. This is a perfect example of Michael Dowd’s argument about the pervasiveness of evolution.

We need to understand the Republican game and gain control over it so we can beat it. It’s one of the reasons an understanding of the evolutionary principle is so important.

It’s also important because if the average person better understood the relationships between and among things, including the evolutionary principle, they wouldn’t be so easily snowed. We’re not going to reach most of the adults. This process must begin in early childhood - educating children to understand evolution. If we can give children that world view, they’ll be much more savvy adults.

Posted on Sep 07, 2008 at 5:16am by PLaClair Comment #130

His use of mythical and pantheistic language to create an evolutionary-based religion is one of the vast array of Creationist offshoots that bear no weight within either the religion or science based communities. It is a form of evolving religion which, until every last facet of its entity is discredited by modern science or deemed unsociable by contemporary secular values, will always have an answer and will exist until the end of time, metaphorically of course.

Posted on Nov 05, 2008 at 9:24pm by Jackofreason Comment #131

His use of mythical and pantheistic language to create an evolutionary-based religion is one of the vast array of Creationist offshoots that bear no weight within either the religion or science based communities. It is a form of evolving religion which, until every last facet of its entity is discredited by modern science or deemed unsociable by contemporary secular values, will always have an answer and will exist until the end of time, metaphorically of course.

I disagree. First, language alone does not create meaning; language in context does. For example, Einstein and Hawking both refer to “God.”

Second, what evidence do you have to support your charge that Michael’s work is a Creationist offshoot? For that matter, what does that mean? Are you charging him with deliberate deception: trying to sneak Creationism in the back door? Are you diminishing his work because he uses the same words as are used in theism? What exactly is your charge, and then what is your basis?

My impression of what you’ve written is that you’re trying to smash every vestige of theism, even its emotional roots. That’s not reasonable, or necessary. I don’t know you, and this is your first post at CFI, but the impression I get from your post is that of the absolutism that says we must burn down the churches and smash the statues. I believe the better, evolutionary approach is to get people to look at them in a different way. I would never want to scrape the paint of the ceiling in the Sistine chapel, for example, or burn the manuscripts of Bach’s passions. This art is part of our history, and it’s beautiful. I would prefer it had a different history, but we can’t change that now.

Michael’s point is that it’s easier to get people to secularism through the language and images they’re comfortable with, than it is to insist that they renounce everything in their religions while they still adhere to them. The latter approach makes no sense from a scientific, evolutionary perspective. It will never happen that way. Michael is saying that we can and should use language and image to move people toward a scientific world view; you’re saying this only reinforces unscientific thinking.

I’m rambling to make myself as clear as possible. I’d be interested in seeing you support your charge. In particular, I’m looking for evidence of supernaturalism or magical thinking in Michael’s work. I have not seen it.

Posted on Nov 06, 2008 at 4:34am by PLaClair Comment #132

..... In particular, I’m looking for evidence of supernaturalism or magical thinking in Michael’s work. I have not seen it.

Here is a blog with another review

http://de-conversion.com/2008/08/24/thank-god-for-evolution-by-michael-dowd/

Dowd’s resulting theology of Humanistic/Christian/Universalist views is a confusing mishmash of vague spirituality, mythology, pop psychology and a smattering of science.

Posted on Nov 06, 2008 at 5:42am by Jackson Comment #133

..... In particular, I’m looking for evidence of supernaturalism or magical thinking in Michael’s work. I have not seen it.

Here is a blog with another review

http://de-conversion.com/2008/08/24/thank-god-for-evolution-by-michael-dowd/

Dowd’s resulting theology of Humanistic/Christian/Universalist views is a confusing mishmash of vague spirituality, mythology, pop psychology and a smattering of science.

That’s not evidence. It’s second-hand and conclusory. In a court of law, it would be excluded on both counts.

I’m looking for evidence from the original source.

Posted on Nov 06, 2008 at 8:19am by PLaClair Comment #134

..... In particular, I’m looking for evidence of supernaturalism or magical thinking in Michael’s work. I have not seen it.

Here is a blog with another review

http://de-conversion.com/2008/08/24/thank-god-for-evolution-by-michael-dowd/

Dowd’s resulting theology of Humanistic/Christian/Universalist views is a confusing mishmash of vague spirituality, mythology, pop psychology and a smattering of science.

That’s not evidence. It’s second-hand and conclusory. In a court of law, it would be excluded on both counts.

I’m looking for evidence from the original source.

give me a break.

Posted on Nov 06, 2008 at 4:34pm by Jackson Comment #135

give me a break.

You cited an article that expressed an opinion. That opinion could be based on nothing more than the author’s biases. The merits or lack thereof are in the original source.

Posted on Nov 06, 2008 at 5:28pm by PLaClair Comment #136

... In particular, I’m looking for evidence of supernaturalism or magical thinking in Michael’s work. I have not seen it.

Michael posted the conclusion to his book in an earlier post—and I’m including phrases relevant to your question/quest.  Michael intentionally uses an ambiguous wording which supports both a theistic and an atheistic interpretation.  I think you and I must just read this stuff differently.  Whether he believes it himself or not, to me his metaphorical language supports “magical thinking”. 

This may be my last post on this forum.
.....
Here’s my vision in nutshell (it’s how I conclude my book). I’m fully aware of how corny this will sound in the context of this forum. I share it here because it expresses my values and is the vision that wakes me up excited to be alive and play my role in the body of life each day.
....

I envision the day when facts are universally celebrated as God’s native tongue, when evidence is honored as divine clues, ....
... Oh, would it come to pass that millions of people wait with eager anticipation for the next revelations from God that appear in journals like Nature and Science. ...
...
I cherish the day when awareness of the nested emergent nature of divine creativity will be universal, and when people everywhere understand that words create worlds. ....
I hunger for the day when most of the world’s religious believers see themselves as religious knowers; when the majority of Christians are Evolutionary Christians, the majority of Muslims are Evolutionary Muslims . . .
...

From http://www.centerforinquiry.net/forums/viewthread/4519/P75/#47390

Posted on Nov 07, 2008 at 5:49am by Jackson Comment #137

... In particular, I’m looking for evidence of supernaturalism or magical thinking in Michael’s work. I have not seen it.

Michael posted the conclusion to his book in an earlier post—and I’m including phrases relevant to your question/quest.  Michael intentionally uses an ambiguous wording which supports both a theistic and an atheistic interpretation.  I think you and I must just read this stuff differently.  Whether he believes it himself or not, to me his metaphorical language supports “magical thinking”. 

This may be my last post on this forum.
.....
Here’s my vision in nutshell (it’s how I conclude my book). I’m fully aware of how corny this will sound in the context of this forum. I share it here because it expresses my values and is the vision that wakes me up excited to be alive and play my role in the body of life each day.
....

I envision the day when facts are universally celebrated as God’s native tongue, when evidence is honored as divine clues, ....
... Oh, would it come to pass that millions of people wait with eager anticipation for the next revelations from God that appear in journals like Nature and Science. ...
...
I cherish the day when awareness of the nested emergent nature of divine creativity will be universal, and when people everywhere understand that words create worlds. ....
I hunger for the day when most of the world’s religious believers see themselves as religious knowers; when the majority of Christians are Evolutionary Christians, the majority of Muslims are Evolutionary Muslims . . .
...

From http://www.centerforinquiry.net/forums/viewthread/4519/P75/#47390

I’ve spoken with Michael and yes, I do read it differently. He’s putting the supernaturlism on the side. It’s the equivalent of assuming the other person’s point of view for the sake of argument, but if it’s done that way it will be resisted. He’s doing it in a way that will encounter less resistance.

Whether Michael believes in a god-being or not, his approach is more likely to succeed than any other. Insisting that people start free of magical or supernatural thinking won’t get them there. Instead, find a creative way to put the issue aside, and let them figure it out for themselves once the evolutionary principle has fully permeated their thinking. That’s why his ambiguities make sense.

Posted on Nov 07, 2008 at 6:43am by PLaClair Comment #138

His use of mythical and pantheistic language to create an evolutionary-based religion is one of the vast array of Creationist offshoots that bear no weight within either the religion or science based communities. It is a form of evolving religion which, until every last facet of its entity is discredited by modern science or deemed unsociable by contemporary secular values, will always have an answer and will exist until the end of time, metaphorically of course.

I disagree. First, language alone does not create meaning; language in context does. For example, Einstein and Hawking both refer to “God.”

Second, what evidence do you have to support your charge that Michael’s work is a Creationist offshoot? For that matter, what does that mean? Are you charging him with deliberate deception: trying to sneak Creationism in the back door? Are you diminishing his work because he uses the same words as are used in theism? What exactly is your charge, and then what is your basis?

My impression of what you’ve written is that you’re trying to smash every vestige of theism, even its emotional roots. That’s not reasonable, or necessary. I don’t know you, and this is your first post at CFI, but the impression I get from your post is that of the absolutism that says we must burn down the churches and smash the statues. I believe the better, evolutionary approach is to get people to look at them in a different way. I would never want to scrape the paint of the ceiling in the Sistine chapel, for example, or burn the manuscripts of Bach’s passions. This art is part of our history, and it’s beautiful. I would prefer it had a different history, but we can’t change that now.

Michael’s point is that it’s easier to get people to secularism through the language and images they’re comfortable with, than it is to insist that they renounce everything in their religions while they still adhere to them. The latter approach makes no sense from a scientific, evolutionary perspective. It will never happen that way. Michael is saying that we can and should use language and image to move people toward a scientific world view; you’re saying this only reinforces unscientific thinking.

I’m rambling to make myself as clear as possible. I’d be interested in seeing you support your charge. In particular, I’m looking for evidence of supernaturalism or magical thinking in Michael’s work. I have not seen it.

Firstly, I am sure that whatever I say, I have already dug my own grave with my initial absolutist language . He got to me. He is clearly a Christian in atheist’s clothing. He supports one part of an “evidencial worldview” (his words) and “empirically based” practices, but also supports a worldview that is totally opposite, ie without evidence “we are the Universe becoming conscious of itself” – quite supernatural to me. He also never said he came to terms with the idea that Christ clearly didn’t walk on water or that talking burning bushes exist. What he’s trying to do is to bring people across from the religious side of the fence using religious language as you said – but only in one area. While this is noble, it is impractical. It doesn’t address core prejudices such as homosexual intolerance, or intolerance of Jews (they did after all kill Christ and don’t tell me they aren’t persecuted for that – I saw it daily after bible studies at my high school). Why not address these concepts if he wants to change Christianity’s worldview?

Why Michael’s work is a Creationist offshoot – It doesn’t remove a form of divine input from the equation. He doesn’t say that we were just a product of natural evolution. He suggests that we are the will of the Universe or something like that – from what I could gather. While this isn’t really creationist, it isn’t evolution either. Its pseudo-evolution. Which as we both agree is a sensible way to move the religious among us to a more secular position, but is it the most pertinent problem.

I also agree that religion has given us beautiful things but has also given us some pretty bad things. Read The End of Faith by Sam Harris if you haven’t already – I’m sure you have as you seem to know a bit more about his than I do.

And before you suggest it, I know that religion is not going to be wiped from the face of the planet overnight, I just think there are more important ideals that it inflicts on our culture that are of prime concern.

“I would never want to scrape the paint of the ceiling in the Sistine chapel, for example, or burn the manuscripts of Bach’s passions. This art is part of our history, and it’s beautiful. I would prefer it had a different history, but we can’t change that now.” – I don’t think this has anything to do with the necessity or reasonableness of removing religion. We have no need for religion in terms of the hunter gatherer sense of the word. Religion – at least the concept that many seem to adhere to, the afterlife – gives us reason to not lose our minds in the knowledge that we will cease to exist at some point. Secular Humanism tells us that we can do this without religion. Religion is just more tantalising in what it delivers. As Im sure you are no doubt aware.

Posted on Nov 08, 2008 at 1:19am by Jackofreason Comment #139

Firstly, I am sure that whatever I say, I have already dug my own grave with my initial absolutist language . He got to me. He is clearly a Christian in atheist’s clothing. He supports one part of an “evidencial worldview” (his words) and “empirically based” practices, but also supports a worldview that is totally opposite, ie without evidence “we are the Universe becoming conscious of itself” – quite supernatural to me. He also never said he came to terms with the idea that Christ clearly didn’t walk on water or that talking burning bushes exist. What he’s trying to do is to bring people across from the religious side of the fence using religious language as you said – but only in one area. While this is noble, it is impractical. It doesn’t address core prejudices such as homosexual intolerance, or intolerance of Jews (they did after all kill Christ and don’t tell me they aren’t persecuted for that – I saw it daily after bible studies at my high school). Why not address these concepts if he wants to change Christianity’s worldview?

Why Michael’s work is a Creationist offshoot – It doesn’t remove a form of divine input from the equation. He doesn’t say that we were just a product of natural evolution. He suggests that we are the will of the Universe or something like that – from what I could gather. While this isn’t really creationist, it isn’t evolution either. Its pseudo-evolution. Which as we both agree is a sensible way to move the religious among us to a more secular position, but is it the most pertinent problem.

I also agree that religion has given us beautiful things but has also given us some pretty bad things. Read The End of Faith by Sam Harris if you haven’t already – I’m sure you have as you seem to know a bit more about his than I do.

And before you suggest it, I know that religion is not going to be wiped from the face of the planet overnight, I just think there are more important ideals that it inflicts on our culture that are of prime concern.

“I would never want to scrape the paint of the ceiling in the Sistine chapel, for example, or burn the manuscripts of Bach’s passions. This art is part of our history, and it’s beautiful. I would prefer it had a different history, but we can’t change that now.” – I don’t think this has anything to do with the necessity or reasonableness of removing religion. We have no need for religion in terms of the hunter gatherer sense of the word. Religion – at least the concept that many seem to adhere to, the afterlife – gives us reason to not lose our minds in the knowledge that we will cease to exist at some point. Secular Humanism tells us that we can do this without religion. Religion is just more tantalising in what it delivers. As Im sure you are no doubt aware.

I”ll answer your questions to the best of my ability. Of course, I don’t speak for Michael. He is clearly coming from a Christian background, but so is John Shelby Spong. That doesn’t mean that he shares Jerry Falwell’s theology, or even that he is a “kinder and gentler” kind of theist.

Belief systems change through interpretation, not merely their approach to tolerance and intolerance. For many theists, perhaps most, interpretation is at the core of religion. It isn’t limited to how one interprets scripture; it also covers how one interprets life within the universe. Saying that he should address intolerance is like saying that a species evolves by mending the wounds suffered by its constituent organisms. That’s not how evolution works. Criticism of Michael’s work misses the point completely if it overlooks how belief systems evolve.

This is a fascinating statement: “Why Michael’s work is a Creationist offshoot – It doesn’t remove a form of divine input from the equation.” Jack, you sound like a theist yourself—- “a form of divine input”? What is that? Why did you use that language? If I criticize you for it, does that advance the discussion?

Of course his work is a Creationist offshoot. And I’m a farmer’s son. So what? The point is to find an evolutionary path out of Creationism. Who is better placed to do it than someone who understands it from within? Michael’s central point is that this is rarely accomplished by insisting that people throw off every element of their belief system all at once. Again, with utmost respect, you’re completely overlooking how evolution works.

The point about art and music is relevant because many secularists recoil from it. I did that myself for many years. In those years, I was not appreciating how belief systems really work, or in particular how they are changed.

Jackofreason, the best I can do is make an observation and a suggestion. The observation is that I see no evidence in your writing that you’re employing an evolutionary understanding; on the contrary, you seem to be ignoring it. My suggestion is to re-read Michael’s work with the evolutionary principle firmly in mind. Such a reading made his argument eminently sensible to me. Maybe it will have the same effect for you. Try to make your argument about intolerance, for example, from that perspective. I think you’ll find that you’re comparing apples to oranges.

Posted on Nov 08, 2008 at 2:32am by PLaClair Comment #140

I”ll answer your questions to the best of my ability. Of course, I don’t speak for Michael. He is clearly coming from a Christian background, but so is John Shelby Spong. That doesn’t mean that he shares Jerry Falwell’s theology, or even that he is a “kinder and gentler” kind of theist.

Belief systems change through interpretation, not merely their approach to tolerance and intolerance. For many theists, perhaps most, interpretation is at the core of religion. It isn’t limited to how one interprets scripture; it also covers how one interprets life within the universe. Saying that he should address intolerance is like saying that a species evolves by mending the wounds suffered by its constituent organisms. That’s not how evolution works. Criticism of Michael’s work misses the point completely if it overlooks how belief systems evolve.

This is a fascinating statement: “Why Michael’s work is a Creationist offshoot – It doesn’t remove a form of divine input from the equation.” Jack, you sound like a theist yourself—- “a form of divine input”? What is that? Why did you use that language? If I criticize you for it, does that advance the discussion?

Of course his work is a Creationist offshoot. And I’m a farmer’s son. So what? The point is to find an evolutionary path out of Creationism. Who is better placed to do it than someone who understands it from within? Michael’s central point is that this is rarely accomplished by insisting that people throw off every element of their belief system all at once. Again, with utmost respect, you’re completely overlooking how evolution works.

The point about art and music is relevant because many secularists recoil from it. I did that myself for many years. In those years, I was not appreciating how belief systems really work, or in particular how they are changed.

Jackofreason, the best I can do is make an observation and a suggestion. The observation is that I see no evidence in your writing that you’re employing an evolutionary understanding; on the contrary, you seem to be ignoring it. My suggestion is to re-read Michael’s work with the evolutionary principle firmly in mind. Such a reading made his argument eminently sensible to me. Maybe it will have the same effect for you. Try to make your argument about intolerance, for example, from that perspective. I think you’ll find that you’re comparing apples to oranges.[

Firstly, I feel like David taking on Goliath in one of my first theological debates. Let me find a rock.
Secondly, Im not a theist at all. Quite the opposite. Please critique my theistic language.

I appreciate that religion can evolve as interpretation dictates. I wont dispute this, and encouraging it will be beneficial. However I feel from my deeply secular absolutist beliefs that the debate between evolution and creationism is a debate of ideals. We cant be silent and wait for religion to come around to see the world in a truly scientific light, that would take a millenia. To paraphrase Dawkins, “the battle to fight for evolution education is part of a bigger battle againts religion/irrational thought and thats the fight that I want to win”. Im not discounting an evolutionary method of bringing religion out of the dark ages. I just dont want to have my beliefs turned into some form of theistic-scientific mish mash in the name of progression. I think the method of speaking the truth consistantly without wavering is just as effective a conversion method to bring people to lead completely rational lives. If Dawkins converts one theist a day through his true-to-self beliefs and Dowd brings 10 people 1/10th of the way to becoming secular, wont this result in the same thing. Why must we all march to the beat of the same drum.  Am I wrong?

Posted on Nov 08, 2008 at 3:29am by Jackofreason Comment #141

Firstly, I feel like David taking on Goliath in one of my first theological debates. Let me find a rock.

Secondly, Im not a theist at all. Quite the opposite. Please critique my theistic language.

I appreciate that religion can evolve as interpretation dictates. I wont dispute this, and encouraging it will be beneficial. However I feel from my deeply secular absolutist beliefs that the debate between evolution and creationism is a debate of ideals. We cant be silent and wait for religion to come around to see the world in a truly scientific light, that would take a millenia. To paraphrase Dawkins, “the battle to fight for evolution education is part of a bigger battle againts religion/irrational thought and thats the fight that I want to win”. Im not discounting an evolutionary method of bringing religion out of the dark ages. I just dont want to have my beliefs turned into some form of theistic-scientific mish mash in the name of progression. I think the method of speaking the truth consistantly without wavering is just as effective a conversion method to bring people to lead completely rational lives. If Dawkins converts one theist a day through his true-to-self beliefs and Dowd brings 10 people 1/10th of the way to becoming secular, wont this result in the same thing. Why must we all march to the beat of the same drum.  Am I wrong?

I share your concern. I think every secularist shares your concern. My concern about your concern is that it ends up being the tail that wags the dog. As a group, we tend to dismiss approaches that seem “too nice,” or that don’t explicitly reject theistic ideas. As Jackson observed, Dowd uses ambiguous language in that respect. That doesn’t make him a theist. It does allow him to work on the foundations of theistic thought without being dismissed out-of-hand. Once those foundations collapse, theistic belief will go with them. It’s an example of giving people a set of facts and letting them draw their own conclusions. It’s a more effective way of getting people to change their minds. People don’t like being told how to think.

Therefore, I don’t accept the presmise behind your Dawkins-Dowd comparison, either the hypothetical math of the suggested tradeoff or the idea that there is a tradeoff at all. There is no alternative, non-evolutionary means of getting from one species to another. Dawkins and others play a role, but they haven’t been very successful, and that’s why. They’re not paying enough attention to how people think. Most respectfully, the idea that this approach is effective is an illusion; it’s based on a wish and it’s contrary to all the evidence. Unless we keep in mind how belief systems evolve, we’re not going to succeed. The proof is in the fact that we have not succeeded with that approach. If we’re going to succeed where we have not succeeded before, I think we need to understand what has been missing in our approach and incorporate it. It’s ironic that the secularist community has overlooked the evolutionary principle. It’s not an option, in my view. It’s a necessary part of a successful strategy.

So instead of seeing this as a debate, try out my suggestion. Think about Michael’s argument from an evolutionary perspective.

Posted on Nov 08, 2008 at 4:20am by PLaClair Comment #142

.

Posted on Nov 08, 2008 at 8:10am by Luke Vogel Comment #143

I don’t know how many of you have heard Dowd on ‘The Infidel Guy’ podcast, but I felt like I ‘got his point’ more from that particular podcast/interview than the Point of Inquiry one (perhaps simply because the Infidel Guy podcast was a little longer and the interview was a little ‘looser’ in structure/questions).  Anyway, in case anyone is interested:

Thank God for evolution: Michael Dowd

Posted on Nov 08, 2008 at 12:34pm by Axegrrl Comment #144

I saw Michael’s presentation yesterday in New York City. He was superb.

Posted on Apr 06, 2009 at 9:46am by PLaClair Comment #145

I come from a Christian background, though I no longer subscribe, and I found myself utterly confused by Rev. Dowd’s point.  I had to listen to his 2-part interview twice to really start to get the idea a bit.  Some of the things he said, I find pretty insightful, but contrasted with the religious portion of what he talks about, I ultimately found his entire argument contradictory.  I actually really dug what he had to say about why religions need to adopt a naturalistic framework, but just simply feel that it is not realistic.  What DJ said about Dowd being a Christian-Lite made perfect sense in that, without Christ and the literal (or mostly literal) Bible how can he even define himself as a Christian. 

I feel that his overall argument is that religion and metaphorical language (or night language) are somehow necessary to humanity, and that we must adapt Evolution as a religion to have a stable, rational society.  To do this all religions must drop the doctrinal, irrational beliefs from their structure and focus more on the facts of the universe.  It sounded like he was trying to create a new religion, but he is not.  He is trying to create a Meta-Religion that can advance all religions.  My only question then, is how can you justify belief in any religion?  If all the core beliefs are now gone from every religion, then they have lost their essence and are essentially all the same.  It sounds like he is really just asking us to choose the metaphors that we wish to use to describe nature and that is all. 

Through all of this, I could not shake the feeling that he understands that what he is peddling is not religion (and certainly not Christianity.  If you take a literal Jesus out of the equation, is it not now Judaism?) and that all this is a disguised effort to lure the religious masses into a rational, scientific world-view that he feels cannot accept a naturalistic world-view otherwise.  At the end of the 2nd interview, I really could not tell you what differentiates him from his atheist wife.  It seemed like they believed the same things, just talked about them differently. 

I should note, that I have not been able to hear him speak and have not yet read his books (though I plan to) so all this is based solely on his interviews with DJ.

Posted on Aug 24, 2009 at 3:19pm by Eternally Learning Comment #146

Eternally Learning, welcome. Interesting moniker for someone expressing your views.

As a strong proponent of Michael Dowd’s work, I’ll go to bat for him here.

Think of it in evolutionary terms. We have to start from where we are. We don’t have the option of evolving from a non-religious culture, because that’s not where we are. Michael’s point, as I understand it, is that if we want to get from A to M, we can’t jump to Z and hope to make our way back to M; or jump to Z and hope to stay there, for that matter. It’s important that we use the language in which people think.

I met Michael a few months ago and spent some time speaking with him. He’s a Christian by background but is no longer a theist. Most likely, his language will always contain signs of his background. That’s to be expected.

If he’s trying to create a meta-religion free of supernaturalism, I don’t see the problem. It seems to me that would be an ideal state of affairs for secularists. Saying that this strategy would denude each of the religions of its “core beliefs” begs the question: if people ever come to the view that a humanist ethic was the core message of religion all along, or just the message they wish to carry forward, and then live according to such an ethic without resorting to supernaturalism or divisive theologies any more, we will have arrived at John Lennon’s “Imagine” point. I’d be hard pressed to think how this wouldn’t be a major leap forward.

Posted on Aug 24, 2009 at 7:54pm by PLaClair Comment #147

Hi PLaClair, thanks for the welcome!  I think that I may not have clearly stated where I am coming from in my last post.  To clarify, I do not have any problem with the thought behind what he is doing, the end goal, or really even the methods.  In fact, I think that what he is doing is admirable, I merely think that it is unrealistic, and maybe even a little deceptive.  Reading your reply prompted me to go back to the podcast again, after which I realized that I misheard some of what he was talking about.  What primarily threw me off I think, is that when DJ commented that when Michael says “god” he doesn’t mean “GOD” he means the universe and humanity, Michael said that that was not the case.  When I listened closer, I understood that Michael is not promoting the idea of a literal deity, so that took some of the confusion out of it.

All that being said though, I still hold to my point that he still basically seems like he wants to lure the religious away from their doctrine by stating that his Meta-Religion will offer the best of both worlds and will lead to a more harmonious Earth, and from your response it doesn’t seem like you really disagree with me on this point.  Maybe you misinterpreted what I meant by “lure” as I suppose that implies some sort of malicious intent, but that is not how I meant it.  What I am trying to convey is that I feel that he is basically saying that by offering the religious their metaphors they will be more inclined to leave behind the superstitious portions of their religion and thereby evolving towards a naturalistic, atheistic worldview.  Another way I look at it is that while people like Dawkins take the strategy of attacking the superstition in religions, Dowd takes the opposite strategy of appealing to the metaphorical in religion.  I think that was your point when talking about what the “real” core beliefs of religion are.  The inherent problem (or maybe I should say difficulty) with this strategy is that looking at it from this view creates this question of what the core of a religion is, and the answer is ultimately debatable and would likely be different for every religion.  Additionally, both Dowd’s strategy and Dawkins’ have the same big hurdle to overcome; convincing the religious that their beliefs are not factual and have not come from a god, but rather from nature.  As we see time and time again though, when people have an irrational belief in something, rational arguments don’t do much to move them from it.

As I write this though, I am realizing something else; the strength in Dowd’s strategy is that it is can bypass the need to reach the religious logically.  If he can move them emotionally by speaking of Evolution and science in a metaphorical way, the logic will then follow.  There are still some things about his language that will be pretty off-putting to most Christians at least (I can’t really speak for other religions), but as far as I’m concerned he seems to be coming from a good place and is not watering down science so I have no gripe with him.  He had a lot of new (to me at any rate) concepts to relay in just a couple of short interviews so it took me a bit to really work it through my head, but I am glad I did.  No one can say that he is not thought provoking   I look forward to reading his book.

PLaClair, I also want to respond directly to what you had to say as well.  Like I already stated, your reply prompted me to take a 3rd listen to the interviews, so thanks for your honest comments.  I wanted to first ask you what you meant in your opening statement by “Interesting moniker for someone expressing your views.”  Intention often gets lost in text and I wasn’t sure what you were commenting on.  Also, in response to the A to M to Z comment; what are A, M, and Z?  Do we all agree on where we are and more importantly, where we want to be?  I think that my life story of being raised an adamant believer and gradually transitioning away from that through logic and science, is proof positive that the goal of reaching the believer through logic is possible, and I would guess that there is at least one person out there who was in a similar position to me who came to a similar position to what I currently hold through Rev. Dowd’s evangelism.  The other item from your reply I wanted to comment on is where you state that the humanist ethics may well be the actual core beliefs of religions.  I would say that the core beliefs are the superstitions portions, the literal mythology.  The humanist ethic, as you put it, is more about the ideals that each religion has.  In other words, belief refers to god, morals and ethics refer to god’s commandments and laws.  It’s still debatable which of the two is more important in each religion, and the answer will likely vary from person to person.  My only concern is about the aspects of religion that are not superstitious, but are also not moral in an Evolutionary sense?  Gays, for instance are considered immoral in the Bible.  There are dangerous things in most religions besides the superstitions.  Let’s also not forget that underneath all of this is the fact that regardless of the ideologies that people have created to justify their misdeeds, all of the evil that has happened in humanity’s history was caused by humans.  I can already see the beginnings in even this thread of new ideological battles to be waged.  Let’s try not to make this a future like South Park joked where we have just found new things to kill each other over and remember that self-correction and an honest exchange of ideas are at the core of science, and are truly ideals that we can live our lives by.

Posted on Aug 25, 2009 at 3:27pm by Eternally Learning Comment #148

EL,

Good post! You clarified plenty and I agree with most of it. Just a couple comments.

“. . . looking at it from this view creates this question of what the core of a religion is.” There’s no “there” there. The core of an abstraction is whatever people say it is.

“Interesting moniker” refers to your use of the word “Eternally.”

A to M to Z just refers to the evolutionary process. Occasionally people make big jumps in their thinking but more often our views evolve.

Here is my vision about the kind of luring we might wish to do:
http://quotations.about.com/cs/poemlyrics/a/The_Pasture.htm

Posted on Aug 25, 2009 at 8:24pm by PLaClair Comment #149

PLaClair, thanks for the kudos!  I think what we have here is another need for me to clarify : ) 

As far as what the core of a religion is, it does not matter what reality is.  Since the religious are those we wish to persuade, it is only what they perceive the core to be that truly matters.  That is why I state that what the core is, is debatable.  Obviously for Michael’s message to have any effect, they would first need to feel that the ethics and morals are at the core.  This still leaves the problem of intolerant, not to mention violent, morals and ethics that many religions have deep within their doctrine and tradition.  I think though that if facts, reason and rational-thinking are truly being worshiped in this Meta-Religion though, that it is likely those aspects will gradually disappear. 

I’m glad you were referring to “Eternally” and not “Learning,” as I initially thought you were trying to say that because I had opposing views, I was not learning.  Just goes to show how reading emotion into non-living text can cause problems : )  As for using the word “Eternally,” I did not intend to use night language as it were, but rather just meant to convey a sense that I never intend to stop learning.

When I was talking about the A to M to Z statement, I understood what you were trying to convey about it representing Evolution.  I simply meant that it is up for debate what “A” represents as surely many people have different views of our current situation, what “Z” represents as the end goal of all this is likely different for those involved, and what “M” represents since the midway point is even harder to come to a consensus on when “Z” is still up for grabs.  I do agree though that methods are needed for the lowest common denominator as well as the highest.  As the Sunday church-goers who likely never give any thought to their beliefs are not likely to be persuaded by well thought out and demonstrated facts, logic, and reason, theologians are just as unlikely to be persuaded by this meta-religion concept.

Posted on Aug 27, 2009 at 2:04pm by Eternally Learning Comment #150

EL: The best way to spread an idea, or a way of life, is to have a vision and act on it. Persuasion isn’t necessarily the most important thing. I’m not suggesting that you’re saying any different.

Posted on Aug 27, 2009 at 4:21pm by PLaClair Comment #151

How else do you “spread an idea” other than by persuading others to see things in a new light?  Maybe that seems too harsh a word, I can think of other synonyms, but ultimately the plan is to take people who do not hold this view and have them come to a point where they do.  Am I missing something?  There is a school of thought within Christianity that says outright evangelism is not what they are supposed to do.  Instead they are to merely live by Jesus’ example and be ready to answer questions from non-believers about what makes Christians so different.  Is that what you are referring to?  From my point of view, that is just another strategy of persuasion, not that there is anything wrong with persuasion mind you.

Posted on Aug 28, 2009 at 11:14am by Eternally Learning Comment #152

How else do you “spread an idea” other than by persuading others to see things in a new light?  Maybe that seems too harsh a word, I can think of other synonyms, but ultimately the plan is to take people who do not hold this view and have them come to a point where they do.  Am I missing something?  There is a school of thought within Christianity that says outright evangelism is not what they are supposed to do.  Instead they are to merely live by Jesus’ example and be ready to answer questions from non-believers about what makes Christians so different.  Is that what you are referring to?  From my point of view, that is just another strategy of persuasion, not that there is anything wrong with persuasion mind you.

I violated my own rule and falsely assumed that by “persuasion” you meant reason or argumentation. “(U)ltimately the plan is to take people who do not hold this view and have them come to a point where they do” is broader than that, and is exactly what I mean.

By analogy, I recall a few young women (when I was a younger man) who were extremely persuasive without saying a word. As Paul Simon put it:

“She said ‘Why don’t we both just sleep on it tonight and I believe that in the morning you’ll begin to see the light.’ And then she kissed me and I realized she probably was right.”

Posted on Aug 28, 2009 at 3:51pm by PLaClair Comment #153

Hello,
In regards to evolution, while other creatures of the planet fit into the fact of evolution, Humans don’t and this debate has been proven. The quest for the missing link is a false quest because we would actually need to find several missing links to add up to modern humans. After millions of years of progress, humans reached a point where they instantly went from stone tools to building pyramids of great sophistication in what is now modern day Iraq. The concept of mathematics would have evolved much slower than man himself. You can’t go from stone tools to mapping the stars overnight, it’s simply not realistic. So I FULLY accept the accounted history of the Sumerians and their recordings of how modern man was created. This by far has been the most logical explanation of the instant evolution of man, mentally and physically.

Posted on Oct 01, 2009 at 5:00am by K_Pre Comment #154

So I FULLY accept the accounted history of the Sumerians and their recordings of how modern man was created. This by far has been the most logical explanation of the instant evolution of man, mentally and physically.

Eh? I wanted to ask if you forgot your irony-tags, but then I thought this was silly. Of course it is irony. But then you post this here? What are you aiming at?

GdB

Posted on Oct 01, 2009 at 5:18am by GdB Comment #155

In regards to evolution, while other creatures of the planet fit into the fact of evolution, Humans don’t and this debate has been proven. The quest for the missing link is a false quest because we would actually need to find several missing links to add up to modern humans. After millions of years of progress, humans reached a point where they instantly went from stone tools to building pyramids of great sophistication in what is now modern day Iraq. The concept of mathematics would have evolved much slower than man himself. You can’t go from stone tools to mapping the stars overnight, it’s simply not realistic. So I FULLY accept the accounted history of the Sumerians and their recordings of how modern man was created. This by far has been the most logical explanation of the instant evolution of man, mentally and physically.

Humans don’t fit into the evolutionary scheme? So where do you draw the line between the animals that DO fit into the evolutionary tree and humans? At Homo Erectus? Homo Habilis? Homo Ergaster? Your claim is that evolution proceeded normally and then at some point stopped cold. Where’s the stopping point?

You say that humans instantly went from stone tools to building pyramids. That’s absolutely true. But they continued using stone tools AFTER building those pyramids, so what’s your point? And in fact the first astronomical observations were made by people still in the Neolithic. The Mayans, for example, were a Neolithic civilization that built pyramids, compiled extensive astronomical observations, created calendars, and used only stone tools.

Posted on Oct 01, 2009 at 10:09am by Chris Crawford Comment #156

You can’t go from stone tools to mapping the stars overnight, it’s simply not realistic.

Hundred years ago we rode carriages, and a few decades later we went to the moon.

Posted on Oct 01, 2009 at 11:54am by George Comment #157

You can’t go from stone tools to mapping the stars overnight, it’s simply not realistic.

Hundred years ago we rode carriages, and a few decades later we went to the moon.

What’s this “We” stuff? We Americans went to the Moon. I’m just joking George…HeeHee… :cheese:

Posted on Oct 01, 2009 at 12:00pm by VYAZMA Comment #158

author=“robotaholic” date=“1218877348”][color=purple]after hearing this whole interview, it sounds like this guy is trying to convert atheists to christianity or some sort of religiosity subtly

The bottom line is this - give evidence for a supernatural entity or zip it.

I don’t care for the blending of spirituality and the actual world. - I don’t even think the word spiritual has any meaning whatsoever.  This is a lot of hot air.

I would have trouble even communicating with this person.  I am ultimately a materialist.  His vocabulary is murky or unclear and dilluted with religious terminology.  It’s irritating.

HOW is this man a reverend? - HOW?  he says “facts are god’s native tongue” - uh so there IS a supernatural entity who made the universe- is THAT how he is a reverend? - if so then no thx, I don’t believe in supernatural entities like ghosts, faeries, spirits, demons, or invisible people with magic powers I just don’t and somehow he’s trying to use religious lingo to spout out science

I think you’re not getting the point of these two podcasts.  Dowd is trying to channel the positive aspects of religion (fellowship, awe at the wonders of nature, integrity, social cohesiveness, even some aspects of morality) into a direction which allows for the primacy of evidence based thinking and keeps all the myths where they belong, along with Santa and the Tooth fairy as fun stories for children, but not to be taken literally or as anything more than metaphors.  I say more power to him.  He has some chance of prying some of the religious fundies out of their haze of hatred for everyone and everything which might undermine their insane ideology.  His spirituality does seem to be a kind of pantheism, but his bottom line seems to be that the concept of god itself is to be considered metaphorically.  That he can preach to christian congregations and maybe move them into a more humanist direction is, IMHO, A Good Thing.  Evidently Dawkins agreed as he wrote a forward for Dowd’s book.

Posted on Oct 30, 2011 at 8:56pm by ullrich Comment #159