“The basic mood of the future might well be one of confidence in the continuing revelation that takes place in and through the Earth. If the dynamics of the Universe from the beginning shaped the course of the heavens, lighted the Sun, and formed the Earth. If this same dynamism brought forth the continents and seas and atmosphere; if it awakened life in the primordial cell and then brought into being the unnumbered variety of living beings, and finally brought us into being and guided us safely through the turbulent centuries—there is reason to believe that this same guiding process is precisely what has awakened in us our present understanding of ourselves and our relation to this stupendous process. Sensitized to such guidance from the very structure and functioning of the Universe, we can have confidence in the future that awaits the human venture” (qtd. Thomas Berry pg. 310-311).
Thank God for Evolution was written by Michael Dowd, a pastor and self proclaimed “evolutionary evangelist”. Reverend Dowd says he has dedicated his life to proclaiming the “Great News” (a term commonly used by Christians referring to Bible teachings of Jesus Christ) or the “Great Story,” which is the sacred view of cosmic, biological, and human evolution. This book was much different than expected. There were parts of it that I really enjoyed and others not so much. Although, obviously, I like the whole subject matter of science and religion, I was left rather annoyed as I finished this book. I have no problem uniting science and religion, but the subtitle’s promise of telling me “how the marriage of science and religion will transform my life and our world” didn’t happen. In fact, this seemed to be just a philosophy book that only briefly touched on scientific aspects. I completed the book questioning if the author himself even believed in God or that Jesus Christ was more than a common man and philosopher. I did get a lot of good things from the book, but on a philosophical level that didn’t involve any of Christ’s teachings. The book doesn’t promise to reconcile Christianity and science, merely religion and science. It was insinuated that because the author was a Pastor that Christianity would be a greatly discussed subject, but it was not. With that said, I would recommend this book to those who are feeling the pull towards faith, but need the help reconciling that with science.
I was pleasantly surprised by this quote. This is a topic that I’ve spoken of many times before about the pull of people to religion, and that it is universal. It’s normal. Inate.
The predisposition to religious belief is the most complex and powerful force in the human mind and in all probability an ineradicable part of our nature. It is one of the universals of social behavior, taking recognizable form in every society from hunter-gatherer bands to socialist republics. It goes back at least to the bone altar and funerary rites of Neanderthal man.” (qtd. from Edward O. Wilson pg. 34).
The concept of if we could just look around us we’d see God everywhere and in everything.
“How sad that for many people today, God does not exist in any real, tangible way outside their imagination. They cannot experience the Holy One physically. They cannot honor the reality of the divine with their senses. They are cut off from most of God…The evolutionary perspective restores Nature’s honor and restores God to every nook and cranny of the vast Universe. The Creator has been revealed within the Creation all along!” (pg. 112)
“The blessings of religion do not require departures from factual reality” (qtd. David Sloan Wilson pg 205).
One aspect that I really liked about this book is how much it discussed how humans relate to their environments, and we need to stop abusing it for a sustainable life in the future.
“If you put God outside and set him vis-a-vis his creation, and you have the idea that you are created in God’s image, you will logically and naturally see yourself as outside and against the things around you. And as you unrightfully claim all mind to yourself, you will see the world around you as mindless, and therefore not entitled to moral or ethical consideration. The environment will seem to be yours to exploit. Your survival unit will be you and your folks against the environment of other social units, other races, and the brutes and vegetables. If this is your estimate of your relation to nature and you have an advanced technology, your likelihood of survival will be that of a snowball in hell. You will die either of the toxic by-products of your own hate, or simply of overpopulation and overgrazing” (qtd. Gregory Bateson pg. 127).
It is very important for people to take a step back to look around at the beautiful world. Regardless of anyones particular religious tradition, the world itself IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL CREATION STORY OF ALL.
“Tell me a creation story more wondrous than that of a living cell forged from the residue of exploding stars. Tell me a story of transformation more magical than that of a fish hauling out onto land and becoming amphibian, or a reptile taking to the air and becoming bird, or a mammal slipping back into the sea and becoming whale. Surely this science-based culture of all cultures can find meaning and cause for celebration in its very own cosmic creation story” (qtd. Connie Barlow pg. 142).
Ah hah! Archaeology is important after all! Or more elegantly put:
“In the whole history of human thought, no transformation in human attitudes toward nature has been more profound than the change in perspective brought about by the discovery of the past” (qtd. Stephen Toulman and Jane Goodfield pg. 143).
“Our evolution has been an awesome journey of fourteen billion years. Every entity that ever moved or swam or crawled or flew, every being that lived to reproduce itself, all the vast numbers of species now extinct and presently living who have invented the amazing capability which we have inherited as our eyes, our ears, our organs, our very atoms, molecules and cells—all of those preceding us are represented in our emergence now. We bow down in awe and gratitude for the past. Without all that came before us, none of us would be awakening now!” (qtd. Barbara Marx Hubbard pg. 207).
Dowd speaks a lot of interconnections- between each other, between us and the environment, and also the planet and universe as a whole. A nested reality. We can all guess the roles we play. However, we cannot step outside the box, per say, to visualize the entire point of our individual existence.
I use the term holon to refer to the nested nature of the Universe. A holon is a whole that is also part of a larger whole and is itself composed of smaller wholes. Everything is part of something bigger and is made of smaller components nested within it. Each of those whole/parts, or holons, is creative. So the Universe is made of creative holons. We are holons, too. Within, we find organs, tissues, molecules, atoms, subatomic particles. Without, we form families, societies, planets, solar systems, galaxies. Every holon is creative in ways distinct from the powers that operate at both larger and smaller scales. Nested creativity thus is the source of emergence, of continuing creation by the collective and within each of its parts. At the human scale, we find ourselves smack in the middle of this creative enterprise. Ultimate Reality, or God, is the One and Only Whole (Holy One) that is not part of some larger, more comprehensive reality. Because we are a subset of the whole and cannot step outside to examine it, we shall never grasp the full nature of Ultimate Reality (pg. 85).
Two philosophical examples of the smaller holons that we can visualize relate to experiences that most people have in life like romantic and parent-child relationships. It may seem common sense, but without these things relationships can fail. Our interconnectedness sometimes materializes in small actions. But without a doubt, these actions and reactions in our relationships form smaller holons that we can actually visualize and study- the result is a more enriching life for all parties involved.
The Power of Touch
Each of us craves touch and tenderness. Without touch, a baby dies, the human heart aches, the soul withers. Touch is not only a biological need; it is a profoundly elegant and essential form of communication. Touch is a language that can communicate more love in five seconds than five minutes of carefully chosen words…Touch and tenderness are far more important for couple and family health than most of us realize. Research across cultures has shown that we live longer and more peacefully when we are affectionately touched on a regular basis. There is no substitute for a heartfelt hug or a timely kiss. Such communication quenches a deep thirst.
For millions of years our mammalian ancestors were reassured by parents or comrades not through words but through touch. For 99.9 percent of our mammalian journey, there were no words. The need fortouch begins for mammals at birth, and continues until we die. Infants need to be touched, cradled, and rocked in order for their nervous systems to develop properly, and for healthy emotional and psychological development. This is true for other animals as well. In her book The Power of Touch, Phyllis Davis notes, “All mammal young demonstrate the necessity of touch to healthy physical and behavioral development. Even baby rats prosper from being handled and petted. When they are touched and handled, they outweigh, outlearn, and outlive other rats. Children from homes with loving, touching parents look and act differently than those who are rarely touched. Touched children feel better about themselves and are less hostile, more outgoing. Well-touched children almost seem to glow.”
If we do not receive enough of the right kind of affection as children, the effects can be serious. Touch deprivation can cause mental and physical retardation— even death. As a society we would do well to provide emotional and economic support for mothers or wet nurses to breastfeed infants. Reporting on studies done over the last forty years, Davis notes, “Breastfed babies have fewer respiratory ailments, diarrhea, eczema, asthma, and other ailments than bottle-fed babies. Additionally, breastfed children tend to be physically and mentally superior in their development, and the longer they are breastfed, the more striking the advances” (pg.231-232).
Synergy and Service – The importance of a couple’s shared life vision. I love the elegant way this topic is discussed, and it is definitely one of my favorite parts of this book. I think it is great that he used his wife as an example.
The Universe is made of nested holons: wholes that are part of larger wholes, within still larger wholes. Each has its own integrity, its own personality, and each is more than the sum of its parts…synergy occurs “when the goals of the individual components are in harmony with the needs of the system as a whole.” Abraham Maslow spoke of this as “a social order in which the individual by the same act and at the same time serves his or her own advantage and that of the group”…
I found a discussion of synergy as it relates to intimate relationships and the larger world: “We can make an analogy to a high-powered telescope. The most important component allowing such a telescope to bring Saturn into perfect focus is a series of lenses, carefully polished and in proper orientation to one another. However, if the lenses are out of alignment, if one is smeared with dirt, if they are not focused correctly, or if they are the wrong distance from each other—nothing happens. The power of the telescope depends on the right relationship of its component lenses. Likewise, synergy depends on the people involved being in alignment, with a shared vision and a shared purpose, with their hearts and minds open, with a willingness to share all and a commitment to stick with it till the game is over. With all that in place, energy can flow through that single instrument and truly light up the world.
“Relationships are not for the individuals in them—they are for the world. When relationships ignore that they are conducted in a much wider arena called life-on-Earth and do not see as their primary purpose the enrichment of this greater whole, they tend to display symptoms of dis-ease. The short way to say this is that the purpose of a relationship is service to the wellbeing of all of life. It’s not about getting anything—a mate, married, kids, grandkids, old age security, approval and acceptance, emotional support, strokes. Service is not an activity but an attitude, a willingness to do whatever is needed for the highest outcome for all. In this context of giving out rather than getting from, relationships have a purpose that is both greater than the individuals involved and in alignment with the real needs of life. And that’s the secret to lasting love, for energy= ecstasy = love, and service is what opens the valve.”
Service is the culmination of evolutionary integrity. Service begins with our most intimate relationships of partner and family and expands outward to larger and larger communities. Service also expands in time. We serve the past by cherishing the gifts and contributions of previous generations, both human and nonhuman. We serve the present by finding ways of blessing the lives of those around us, here and now. We serve the future by attending to where our joy and the world’s needs intersect, restoring ecological integrity to our home bioregion, and by doing our part to co-create just and evolutionarily viable economic and political orders, locally, nationally, and internationally.
As with the Cosmos as a whole, synergies come together in my own life in a nested way. Connie is not only my best friend and soulmate, she is also my mission partner. Our itinerant ministry and this book are the fruit of our synergistic union.
Taking a mathematical formula (pg. 281) of each minute representing 250 years for a century equals the entire existence of our galaxy since the Big Bang until this moment (14 billion years). This really puts into perspective how short of time we’ve really been here. According to Dowd’s formula, it was 90 years into the mathematical century before multicellular beings evolved. During the 96th year animals came ashore, and during the 97th year dinosaurs ruled the earth. Around December 20th of the 99th year hominids evolved, and not until December 31st of that last year is it calculated that Homo Sapiens appeared. Dowd says this is the Great Story, the creation story that never ends. In the scheme of things we are a very young species, yet look at how much we have evolved and accomplished. A higher being guiding us?
Genesis 2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
Hands down this has got to be my favorite passage of the entire book. These few paragraphs capture exactly how the author wants us to step outside of ourselves to view the world.
Much of what has been publicly revealed over the course of the last few centuries is astonishing. More, we have learned that to understand the Universe, our galaxy, or planet Earth, we must understand the human— and vice versa. Our sense of reality is profoundly shaped by our biological and cognitive systems, our language, our culture, our place in the evolutionary story of the Universe. Conversely, the deepest truths about humanity cannot be understood apart from appreciating the nested and creative character of Cosmos and Earth, and how it is that we are blessed and burdened by the deep evolutionary roots of our quadrune brain.
Our planet was not merely created; Earth itself is creative. We humans are an expression and a glorious extension of Earth’s ongoing creativity. Earth not only has life on it; in a very real sense ours is a living planet. Earth’s physical structure—its core, mantle, crust, and continents—is the skeleton or frame for life at the largest scale that we know. The soil is a massive digestive system on which land-based ecologies depend. The oceans, waterways, and rain function as a circulatory system. They transport the blood that nourishes and purifies the body of Life. Photosynthetic bacteria, algae, and land plants serve as the planet’s lungs, ever regenerating the lifegiving properties of Earth’s atmosphere. Within the animal realm, a nervous system emerges in which every sensing cell and creature is a node in the net. It is a sensory system finely tuned and diversified for detecting and reacting to environmental change.
Each species is a unique expression of the collaborative creativity of Earth and Sun within the Milky Way. Each species brings its own particular gifts to the body of Life. Humanity is the vessel through which our planet now experiments with self-conscious awareness. That is, the human enables Earth to perceive and ponder its existence—and to perceive and ponder the divine Mystery out of which everything, big and small, has arisen. Humanity is a means by which Nature can appreciate its own beauty and savor its splendor. This role is not without paradox, however, as our kind is also that which threatens Earth with degradation and diminishment.
The move from seeing ourselves as separate beings placed on Earth (“the world was made for us”) to seeing ourselves as a self-reflective expression of Earth (“we were made for the world”), is an immense transformation in human identity (pg. 289).
This book spends a lot of time talking about environmental issues, and this is probably a reason why I enjoyed much of it.
“What is wrong with our culture is that it offers us an inaccurate description of the self. It depicts the personal self in competition with and in opposition to nature. But if we destroy our environment, we are destroying what is in fact our larger Self” (qtd. Freya Matthews pg. 290)
Clearly from all the quotes above this book was not a big discussion of Christianity, but rather spirituality. However, there were several references Dowd made directly towards Christianity and science. He says that through science God’s word is ever renewed, and therefore “we should call sacred interpretations of science “The Ever-Renewing Testament” (pg. 332). At one place he will say wonderful things about Christianity and then other times trample on old traditions. I enjoyed this book, but these comments angered me, especially coming from a pastor. Most of the book was so elegantly written, why now say something like this?
To hold that a literal interpretation of the Bible is the best or only legitimate interpretation is to foster a schizophrenic break between the religion that still guides our souls and the science that is foundational in so many aspects of our lives—including healing many of us from diseases, injuries, and birth defects that in other times would have been lethal (pg. 331).
I think Genesis may be an elaborate story telling of true events, but I’m confused as to why literal interpretations such as believing in the resurrection of Jesus Christ or his miracles would be a schizophrenic break from science. Too many times this author makes claims without explaining. I get the impression from other references to Jesus that Dowd doesn’t believe in the resurrection, but rather believes that after death Jesus changed the world through the spread of his teachings. The end of the book was heavy in very odd rhetoric from a Christian pastor. It is insulting to me to suggest that I cannot be both a biological anthropology student, who is interested in science and the process of evolution, and also a devout Christian. I have no problems with my faith. In fact, I search out others who are both into science and religion, hence I found this book. Besides the sudden theological bashing towards the end, the book was great. Because it is a philosophical book that came with a lot to think about it was not a fast read, and it surely is a book I won’t forget about any time soon.
Free PDF download of the book: http://stardustlocalizing.files.wordpress.com/2008/01/tgfe.pdf (keep in mind this is a newer edition than the one I own, I found that my quotations of the book are found on different pages than noted above.
Office website: http://thankgodforevolution.com/ which also includes Dowd’s blog.
“The future belongs to those who give the next generation reason to hope” (qtd. Teilhard De Chardin pg. 239).