How Doctors Die: An ICU Nurse Responds
“How Doctors Die — It’s Not Like the Rest of Us, But It Should Be"
Tremendously moved, I decided to do my part in spreading this sobering news and vital perspective. One of those who received my email was a young nurse, newly certified for working in the Intensive Care Unit. Below is her response (slightly modified for confidentiality).
Her story brought me to tears of joy and gratitude when I first read it. May there be ever more nurses with the training, the courage, and above all the heart exemplified by this unheralded young hero.
Response by a young “Intensive Care Unit (ICU)” nurse:
Thank you so much for this timely article. Only two months ago I participated in an "End of Life and Palliative Care in the ICU" class, where I was genuinely moved/tormented by the suffering my fellow nurses and I are surrounded with in the ICU.
A peaceful, gentle death is so valuable — and so rare.
I recently cared for a young adult cancer patient at the end of her life. She came to the ICU after having a bone marrow transplant to deal with the "pre-leukemia" she had developed, owing to an aggressive chemo regimen initiated several years earlier for her breast cancer.
By now, her whole body had deteriorated to such an extent that she required a mask that forced air into her lungs in order to oxygenate. She spent two weeks in our hospital’s ICU, with her lungs progressively worsening.
All the nurses knew she was not going to leave our unit. But her oncologist kept telling her to “fight it out!”
Finally, and this was on my shift, with her parents at her side, “Gloria” (the name I'll use) finally said that she just wanted the pain to go away.
Suddenly, everything changed.
I had just brought into her room her evening meds — literally thousands of dollars worth of antibiotics and anti-rejection medications. None of it mattered anymore.
I took down all the unnecessary tubing, started a morphine drip and administered Glycopyrrolate (which dries secretions and softens the "death rattle").
This felt massive to me. I remember this mix of emotions: sadness, relief, and an overwhelming sense that I was a part of something huge. I still cannot wrap my head around it.
I was able to help transition one profoundly suffering human being from a regimen of “Come on! Power through! Endure, endure, endure!” to, “It’s okay, Gloria. You fought so, so hard. Now close your eyes, let your pain fade, and rest.”
It was beautiful.
Gloria died the following day — not on my shift, but I felt so happy that I had been able to share the transition with her and her parents.
To think of everything we had put this woman through in hopes of an inaccessible cure is just ... sickening.
Medicine has gotten to the point where we've gone as far and as invasive as we can go. I wish people — both we professionals and the public at large — would begin to prioritize a dignified death above all.
Family members need to know that there is far more beauty in spending quality time (rather than simply a quantity of time in the hospital) with their unalterably disabled and ultimately incurable loved ones.
Sadly, when family members must make medical decisions, too often those decisions are influenced by a subconscious need to palliate our own emotional suffering. As well, an irrational fear that we will otherwise be guilty (or at least will feel guilty) spurs good people to say “yes” to absolutely every intervention that forestalls death.
Though I wish everyone could die at home surrounded by love and comfort, I know it is the nature of those battling cancer to often push themselves far past their ability to survive the journey home.
It is my duty to honor this incredible fight and allow them to pass peacefully, without pain — and to let them know that accepting death is the greatest victory.
~ by an ICU nurse, posted by...
2011: An Evolutionary Retrospective
Compared to our 13.7 billion year history, not much changes in a single year, right? While that’s true, we can place the changes we’ve seen in the context of an evolutionary perspective - that grand saga of life, which has given us our world.
On the grandest scale, the Universe continues to expand. The most distant galaxies are rushing away from us at a blistering speed of over 100,000 miles every second, putting them 3 trillion miles farther from us than just a year ago. And while we don’t know of any life outside of Earth yet, we have discovered many hundreds of extrasolar planets, most of them discovered in 2011 by the Kepler mission. Much closer to home, our Sun has become more active, ramping up into the coming solar maximum, and sparking huge Northern Lights this past October 25th.
Our Earth is a planet that has brains, eyes, and the internet, and is a planet that has intentionally launched parts of itself into space. In November, the most advanced probe to Mars ever made (the Curiosity rover) lifted off flawlessly, showing our continued advancement. Also advancing, our global connections have greatly increased with at least tens of millions of new internet connections and new wireless hotspots in 2011 (if we have millions of both in just Great Britain, the worldwide total is easily in the tens of millions). Whether or not this qualifies as a global brain yet is another topic for another day, but our progress is rapid, and who knows what the results will be in the future? One possible result of our interconnections so far has been the 2011 Arab Spring. Another has been the information explosion, with as much text written every few days now as humans had written in their entire history up to 2003, and more text written in 2011 than in any other year in our history. Hopefully this information processing will help us handle the problems of the future, both expected and unexpected.
And we moved toward some of those problems in 2011 as well. With 134 million new babies born in 2011, the world population continued to increase. That many births means more mouths to feed, as well as a billion or more new mutations in our gene pool – most being neutral, some harmful, and some beneficial. (Estimates of the mutation rate per generation in humans varies widely, so I used a very conservative number of around 10. Some evidence suggests average mutation rates well over 100 mutations per birth.) With natural selection reduced by our technology, the harmful ones are more likely to increase healthcare costs, and the beneficial ones may fail to spread to everyone. It will be another challenge for future generations to figure out the best way to handle this constant mutational drumbeat. That issue won’t really need to be faced for a while, especially compared to our unsustainable energy habits. In 2011 we burned enough fossil fuel to add about 10 billion metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere, carbon that has been buried underground for millions of years, and now will contribute to global climate change. Similarly, the rapid extinctions we are causing continue, with both headline losses like the Western Black Rhino, and the loss of at least hundreds of species in 2011, many before they could even be named by science. Religious based hatred continued in many incidents, including the slaughter of dozens of teens in Norway by a person who wished to “return Europe to its Christian roots”. Worst of all, I suspect that the majority of humans on our planet are unaware of the threat all of these are posing to our future generations, among so many other threats as well.
There are also reasons for hope. The information explosion mentioned earlier may bring the powerful force of our collective creativity to bear on these problems, before they are insurmountable. The Arab Spring may have helped millions of people move from tyranny towards democracy. The occupy movement in the United States may be partly driven by concern for future generations, and in 2011, the level of human concern for future generations appears to already exceed that at any point in our history. Our circles of care continue to expand in many areas, one of which was shown by the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Human action in 2011 also gave us a higher use of sustainable energy sources, like wind and solar, than has ever been seen.
Of course, this review of our evolution toward a just, peaceful and sustainable world surely misses a lot, even the most important points. In addition to the events I simply forgot to mention, many of the most important events of 2011 are likely unreported in the news. For instance, did millions of teens begin to see our place in this Great Story, and their role in crafting the future, in 2011? Were there elementary kids who learned the basics of science in 2011 who will go on to use that understanding to find a cure for cancer, or a new solar cell technology decades from now? We can’t know, but we can trust that this pulse of life, which has overcome even deadlier threats in the past, continues to surge now, in us, at the start of 2012. May we each do what we can to live up to our potential, for ourselves and for future generations.
In hope - Happy New Year!
~ Jon Cleland Host
Evolutionary Parenting: Thoughts About Holidays
Though I mentioned some resources for Evolutionary Parenting in my previous blog post, I never meant to suggest that it is easy – it’s not (heck, good parenting of any kind isn’t easy). Like so much in life, however, that extra intentional effort is very rewarding.
Right now, at the beginning of December, many of us are indeed spending effort – preparing for the holidays. But which holidays? From the many available, nearly all of us are celebrating the holiday our parents taught us, perhaps including minor tweaks from our lives or our spouses. That’s not a surprise, given that holidays are one of the most common ways that values are passed on to the next generation, answering our human need for both celebration and meaning.
Why “No Holidays” Is Not an Option
Our involvement in holidays, in terms of both time and money spent on the kids, is especially clear for many of us at this time of year – showing that we care about them. After all, it is where we spend our time and money that shows what we really care about. Children know this. They see us with more unvarnished honesty than we may realize, constantly learning from what we actually do, nearly heedless of what we say. Children see through hypocrisy like a picture window, especially as they get older.
So, what then are we teaching them with our chosen holidays, which speak to our children more loudly than anything we tell them? What is all our holiday effort working to build? Because honesty is one of the most important aspects of good parenting, my wife and I carefully chose which holidays to celebrate, and how to celebrate them. Like a culture’s origin story, a culture’s holidays also must be both meaningful and real (or believable). Real, for a holiday, includes being both fun and factual. Holidays that aren’t fun backfire, leading to resentment that only teaches avoidance or antipathy towards the parents as well as whatever idea is otherwise intended. Conversely, a holiday that is fun, but has no basis in reality or fails to teach good values, is little more than rank consumerism, teaching children greed and gluttony. Does that sound like some holidays we have in America today? Is it a surprise that so many Americans have grown up to be greedy, gluttonous, and empty of deep values, having learned exactly what they were taught?
What can be done? Jettisoning all traditional holidays without replacing them is like having holidays that aren’t fun – especially when all your children’s friends are having a blast with those traditional holidays. Do we have any choice other than empty holidays based on consumerism and superstition?
The answer is yes. We do have another option, one which draws on the love, creativity, and effectiveness present in today’s parents – we can craft holidays that are meaningful, real and fun. How that’s done will vary from family to family, and so what follows are just the solutions that Heather and I have found to work well for our family. These may be a useful starting point, but ultimately it is up to each parent to find their family’s solution themselves. For many, some adjustments to their old holidays may be all that is needed, and any holiday solution must be sustainable in today’s modern culture. Too radical a departure will become an effort to maintain over the years, especially if they are celebrated on significantly different dates from traditional holidays, and are thus more likely to be abandoned over time. The rest of this already long blog post describes our family celebration.
The Cleland-Host Family Approach to Holidays Around the Winter Solstice
Obviously, our whole year of family holidays is beyond the scope of a blog post, so this will cover only the Winter Solstice, which is December 22nd this year. In this darkest time of the year, the returning light and the hope that light brings has been enough to make this time sacred for literally millions of your Ancestors for thousands of years. Our modern understanding of the Universe gives us many other ideas to celebrate as well, and we have chosen stars (our Sun and other stars) as a central theme of our family Winter Solstice celebration. Included in that theme are also supernovae, the stardust that makes our world (and us), the winter season, and connection to all humans that comes from realizing that ancient people on all continents celebrated the Winter Solstice millennia ago. The Winter Solstice is, after all, the reason for the season – both meteorologically as well as culturally!
Holidays (and family cultures) must also have practices. Our traditions for the Winter Solstice are similar in many ways to practices our kids see their friends doing. They include a decorated Solstice Tree (with a star on top). Solstice lights are strung indoors and out (we point out to the kids that the different colors of the lights are like the different colors of the stars, and talk about star colors and types). Stockings are hung, as well as decorations with stars, evergreens, and snow. We open a door in an “Advent” calendar every day, counting down the days to Solstice with small surprises, and tell the stories of stardust and of Kabibonokka (the north wind) over eggnog and cookies made in the shapes of stars, snowflakes, and evergreens. See here for related resources.
This all of course culminates on the Winter Solstice itself. After weeks of anticipation, we eat a decorated ice cream Yule Log on the night before Solstice, pointing out that our bodies’ metabolism will be burning that Yule log all night. The next morning, the kids usually wake up before sunrise, and are allowed to go through their (now filled) Solstice stockings. Soon, we gather up the kids in the dark blue of morning, trekking out to see the Sun return, victorious after its long decline. The rising Sun is greeted with songs and poems, and then we take some time as a family to enjoy wherever we are — which is often the Lake Huron shoreline, as our home is in Midland, Michigan.
The kids are jumping with excitement by the time we return home, reminded that love from the Universe can make wonderful things happen. They rush out to our family’s sacred space, a stone circle in our wooded backyard, to find gifts for all. The gifts are brought into the house and opened one at a time, to start a sacred day with no work, instead having a party, visits with extended family, or other family time. If asked, we truthfully answer questions about how the gifts got out there, if those questions are supported by evidence and good reason. We never lie to the children, and they know that. When a child uses their own reason to discover that we put the gifts there, we point out that what we told them first was true, because we parents are part of the Universe, and that they are not allowed to tell their siblings, who must also figure it out themselves. So far, only our oldest child has figured it out, though his brother came very close last year, and I expect him to figure it out easily any day now.
How ever you choose to celebrate the season, our family extends the warmest wishes to you.
~ Jon Cleland Host
Evolutionary Parenting: An Introduction - Jon Host
One of the most important parts of an evolutionary worldview is a commitment to future generations. Why? Because an evolutionary worldview includes the realization that we are all a part of the grand saga of life, the Great Story of the Universe, the diary of that irrepressible pulse of life, surging in us all.
This realization shows us the immensity of the story behind us, and therefore, the immensity of the story ahead of us. But what will that story be? We see from the past that it could contain a lot of horror, and a lot of good, and everything in between. To know that our great grandchildren (or those of our relatives) for seven generations and more will live in the world we give them makes this much more than idle speculation, transforming it into a drive to give back to the Universe and to life itself by doing what we can to help.
For those of us who are parents, this means working to raise our children as well as possible, giving them the tools that will help the future of all, and doing so with joy. Our children are humans, and understanding the needs of (and threats to) human children requires an understanding of the evolutionary history that made them. This is why Evolutionary Parenting includes both the connection to our evolutionary past, as well as the sense of purpose supplied by our awareness of future generations.
Talking about all those evolutionary needs and threats would take many books, so for this blog post, I’ll start with one small part of a family culture, and that is our human need for a meaningful, trusted story of how we got here. For dozens of millennia, humans in cultures around the globe grew with stories of how we got here that gave their lives meaning, richness and a sense of roots, so it’s no surprise that we humans have evolved to need such stories when we are children. To fulfill this need, a story must be meaningful – in that we must attach meaning to it, and not see it as irrelevant or “just dry facts”. It must also be believable – in that it needs to be supported by the facts as well as we know them. In other words, it has to be real. If the story fails either of these requirements, then children (and adults) cannot get all of the benefits we need from it as humans.
We are living in a time when nearly all of us are denying our children (and ourselves!) this basic human requirement. Scientific discoveries have demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that the old creation myths, like the Native American story of Nanabozho or the Genesis story, aren’t literally true (they might still be meaningful, but are no longer believable), while the story that is believable, the evidence-based Universe Story, is rarely taught in a meaningful, inspiring way. Only a story that is both meaningful AND believable can fulfill this basic human need.
Others are recognizing this cultural loss as well. As Nancy Ellen Abrams states:
Without a meaningful, believable story that explains the world we actually live in, people have no idea how to think about the big picture. And without a big picture, we are very small people.
And over a half century ago, Maria Montessori told us that:
…by offering the child the story of the universe, we give him something a thousand times more infinite and mysterious to reconstruct with his imagination, a drama no fable can reveal."
I’ve lost count of the times when, in teaching creation myths to children, they seem uncaring, especially after asking, repeatedly “but is that what really happened?”. They are already too smart to care much for stories that are known to be false. Yet, it still took me a while to realize how much children want the honest truth. Seeing myself and other adults take a long time enthusiastically embrace the Universe Story drives home the fact that we have learned our culture all too well. This is why it takes time and commitment to raise our children with the meaningful and believable history that they desperately need. Even after only a few years of doing so, I’ve already started to see the wonder and joy in my children at having a meaningful and believable origin story – a coherent, empowering cosmology.
We can give them the meaningful and believable story that they need. To do so, we only need to realize how deeply meaningful and enriching the factual Story of the Universe, as discovered by science, truly is. We only need to allow its meaning to shine through – and a moment’s reflection shows how wonderful it really is. That wonder and joy of finally reconnecting to the Universe, the same feeling our Ancestors for millennia felt, is within our grasp again. It changed my life, and others as well. Some of our stories can be read here.
Luckily, none of us have to reinvent the wheel and try to do this from scratch. There are resources available online here. For most of us, we’ll be learning at the same time, with the whole family traveling much of the path together. I hope to discuss some of the ways we’ve found to work well in our family in future blog posts.
Evolutionary Parenting, today, is uncommon at best. But I suspect that in the future it will be as commonplace as teaching children to read and write. From seeing its effect on my life and the lives of others, I think it is just as important as even those basic skills, especially for living in the chaotic world our children will face.
~ Jon Cleland Host
The Death of the Fringe Suburb: Why we boomers are to blame and what the youngers can do about it
A superb Op-Ed piece by Christopher Leinberger appeared in The New York Times on November 25, 2011:
The Death of the Fringe Suburb
That essay offers profound insights and trends for twenty- and thirty-somethings to keep in mind when buying a home in this new and volatile era. I view the signs of change as truly hope-filled. Nonetheless, as we peel away the layers of causality, we boomers are forced to see ourselves as the reason for much of the economic decline. Now it is our job to ensure that the lessons of this sixty-year history that we have lived through are not lost on the generations that follow.
Note: Please take a few minutes to read Leinberger's Op-Ed piece. Then return to this blog to consider two additional points I wish to make.
First, a little background: My husband, Michael Dowd, and I have lived entirely on the road for ten years, occupying for a few days to a few weeks the guest rooms (or sometimes, vacation homes) of Americans affiliated with the churches and nonprofit groups that delight in the message we deliver as “America’s evolutionary evangelists”. Accordingly, we have, in a sense, been sampling and eavesdropping on the lifestyle of Americans our age and older — that is, couples whose kids are grown and out of the house, and who are wealthy enough to live in a home that has a spare room (sometimes an entire wing) for guests. We have carved out an odd career and lifestyle that utterly depends on the generosity of others: we live almost entirely in homes that we ourselves could never afford.
Thanks to this amazing opportunity to sample middle-class American homes and standards of living, I now offer two insights that perhaps will help Gen X, Gen Y, and the Millennials avoid the mistakes that we boomers have made — mistakes we have made mostly as a group, not because we are especially foolish or self-centered as individuals.
Mistake number 1: MIS-JUDGING WHAT MAKES FOR QUALITY OF LIFE
Time and again, surveys have shown that people who choose a home for the wonderful nature-filled yard (but a long distance from anything), find themselves oppressed by a long commute or isolated because it takes too long to drive anywhere to extra-curricular events (for themselves or their lonely kids), especially in inclement weather.
Even though I am a nature fanatic (and feel like the luckiest person alive when my husband and I are offered a month or more hospitality at someone’s vacation home in one of the unbelievably large number of astonishingly beautiful nooks in North America), I have also delighted in getting a chance to live a few days at a time in high quality urban and established suburban settings. Michael and I have often been hosted by folks who have been living in the same neighborhood for 30 or 40 years — the traditional suburbs of the 50s and 60s. Though the homes we have been invited into would have been regarded as the wealthier neighborhoods decades back, today those homes don’t have enough square-footage, bathrooms, and garage space to be attractive to the “wealthy” anymore. The reasons for my fondness of these older “inner suburbs” are four-fold:
- It is just a walk or short drive to the store and post office and other venues.
- There are actual sidewalks in the neighborhood; one doesn’t have to walk in the street (nor drive kids a long distance to play with other kids).
- The trees (whether or not they were large to begin with) are now extravagant and represent a far greater diversity of species, even slow-growing oaks, than one finds in new developments that are turning into ghost towns in farmlands-turned-exurbs.
- The homes tend to be smaller and hence fully used; untouched dining rooms and living rooms are rare, as are energy-extravagant cathedral ceilings.
My point is this: older neighborhoods are not only still thriving; for many reasons (as presented in Leinberger’s Op-Ed piece) these are the locales that youngers should think about moving into themselves.
Mistake number 2: INVESTING FOR RETIREMENT
My second point is not one that was covered in the recommended Op-Ed piece. Indeed, I haven’t encountered anybody else writing on the housing collapse or Wall Street madness from quite this angle. Here is my take:
Boomers invested in extra homes (especially, homes larger than most of us would want to retire into), as we expected to resell those homes for a large profit. Boomers also invested in the stock market because of a new phenomenon initiated by our parents’ generation: old folks no longer expected (nor wanted) to move in with their adult offspring. When we boomers were kids, we ourselves (or at least some of our friends) had grandparents living with us in our home. That was normal in the 50s and 60s. The grandparents did not save a huge sum for retirement, and few got pensions. Back then, grandma got a bedroom to herself and was expected to help out with the kids and cooking some meals. Her social security check was fully adequate for covering her share of the mortgage (for that extra room) and she certainly earned her food costs by the help she gave in the kitchen and with the kids.
In my case, my father’s parents lived with us in, what would have been, the master bedroom. They had a private attached bath and their bed folded into a sofa during the day. They had a little cookstove and refrigerator and tiny “kitchen” table in their room too, and their TV set was on top of the clothes dresser.
That is not the future we boomers intend for ourselves. Also, we expect to live a lot longer after retirement than our grandparents did — and to spend those years taking excursions, golfing, shuttling between our regular home and our vacation home — indeed, intending to live rather extravagantly because many of us have been working just too darned hard. At least, that was our plan before our stocks, real estate, and 401k accounts tanked.
In contrast, our grandparents never even considered those activities. They were happy (at least as happy as anyone expected to be in those days) staying close to home, feeling useful for the next generations, perhaps tending a small vegetable garden.
Of course, changing demographics and the fact that few boomers can expect their adult children to be living anywhere near where they were raised (nor to remain in that locale for long) will make it nearly impossible for grandma or grandpa boomer to happily move in with our adult children. Long-time friends and community groups would have to be left behind — and maybe repeatedly as the kids keep following jobs, mates, and dreams around the country.
All this means that, unlike my grandparents’ generation, most of my peers have assumed that they have to save a quarter million dollars or more before they can safely retire. That is a quarter million dollars per couple that must be “invested” somewhere over the course of decades that it is stashed away. Once upon a time, one simply put money into a savings account. But boomers viewed savings accounts as a loss — no profit there, and with interest rates lagging behind the rate of inflation. The only two places to invest, really, were the stock market and real estate — hence the crash of both of those institutions.
The result of this extraordinary drive to “invest” for retirement was this: huge sums of money were taken out of the real economy and stashed in the casino called Wall Street and in vacant lands and overbuilt housing called real estate. That money was not available for spending on the next generations. Instead, we let the infrastructure that we share communally (roads, bridges, parks, sewers) decline. We pulled state and federal taxes out of the subsidies that we formerly invested in colleges. Instead, we forced the younger generations to pay enormous sums for higher education and thus to be saddled with debt. Consciously or not, we allowed the marvelous infrastructure that we inherited from the Eisenhower era to rust away. Not to worry: “Be, here, now!” Remember?
CONCLUSION: The point of this essay is to let the younger generations know that it is not just Wall Street that screwed them over, but a massive shift in how ordinary Americans came to use and invest their earnings. It is my generation and the one older that made it possible for Wall Street financiers to become garishly wealthy doing nothing of use (and in the case of derivatives, doing much harm). It is my generation that invested in land and new homes that we knew we would not want to retire into, and that would be flagrant energy guzzlers (both in home heating and in gasoline for commutes and errands). I think we had an inkling that our kids could not afford, nor would they want, to live in such wastefulness. But all we needed to do was to resell that McMansion in five or eight years to someone else of our generation who was looking not for a home but for an investment — an investment for retirement.
MY DREAM: My dream is not that Grandma Boomer and Grandpa Boomer turn the pages of history back and go move in with the kids and grandkids. Those days are over for the reason I mentioned earlier: the kids keep moving from city to city and state to state. Rather, I’d like to see two new forms of high-density, low square-footage housing that 20-somethings just starting out and retiring boomers would occupy. (Noise from stereos would not be a problem, as earbuds would be required and no loud parties by anyone choosing those special, low-rent digs.) We olders would choose to occupy such housing not only because our investments failed, but because paring down to simple living would bring a joy to life that we haven’t known since the 60s and the 70s.
Such lost-cost housing developments, of course, must be located near a greenway or park in walking distance, and a grocery a short walk or taxi or bus ride away. There must be sidewalks; there must be trees. Neither we olders nor the youngers just starting out would have to own a car. We wouldn’t mourn a lost opportunity to golf or to cruise. We would be happily engaged in our patch of community garden, volunteering in local schools, joining birdwatching groups in the parks, mentoring the twenty-somethings, and finding real community with peers just around the corner or across the street.
Imagine this: we would be able to pretty much live on our Social Security checks, just like our grandparents did. And no generation, ever again, would be tricked into “saving for retirement” in ways that impoverish and threaten the health and wellbeing of those who follow.
R.I.P Lynn Margulis 1938-2011
It would be difficult to overstate the positive impact of Lynn's work on our understanding of life, but also on my life personally, and Connie's too.
In 1989 I became the first (and only) student to be allowed to audit Lynn's "Environmental Evolution" course at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. This proved to be a significant turning point in my life.
For the final exam, I was asked to publicly present the essence of my mentor Thomas Berry's work in just five minutes. This was one of the most empowering assignments I was ever given, and it ultimately led me to devote my life to teaching and preaching "The Great Story."
My wife Connie, too, was blessed by Lynn's generosity of spirit and mentoring support. Lynn played an instrumental role in helping Connie get her first scientific paper published in 1990, in Biosystems: "Open systems living in a closed biosphere: a new paradox for the Gaia debate". She also helped Connie get her first two books published by MIT Press, From Gaia to Selfish Genes: Selected Readings in the Life Sciences, and Evolution Extended: Biological Debates on the Meaning of Life.
Thank you, Lynn. We love you. Transiting from life to death, you have now become a cherished memetic ancestor.
Here are a few reflections on Lynn's life and legacy worth reading...
• John Brockman, Edge: "Lynn Margulis 1938-2011 'Gaia is a Tough Bitch'"
• John Hogan, Scientific American: "R.I.P. Lynn Margulis, Biological Rebel"
• National Center for Science Education: "Lynn Margulis dies"
• MassLive: "University of Massachusetts community reacts to death of renowned scientist and professor Lynn Marguis"
Terence McKenna Denounces Relativism and New Age Woo
Occupy Wall Street: What's involved in making a new world?
The following is cross-posted here. Short URL: http://bit.ly/nO5Ljy
My sleep was cut short last night by waking up worried at 3:30 a.m. PST about NYC Mayor Bloomberg's ultimatum that the Occupy Wall Street protesters leave Zuccotti Park - aka Liberty Square - at 7 a.m. EST so the park could be cleaned. I won't share the nightmare scenarios my mind concocted, but I finally got up and was profoundly relieved to find that the intervention had been "postponed". The Mayor's office said that park owner Brookfield Properties "believes they can work out an arrangement with the protesters that will ensure the park remains clean, safe, available for public use and that the situation is respectful of residents and businesses downtown, and we will continue to monitor the situation." When it was announced, the massive crowd of protesters went joyfully wild.
Apparently a number of factors made a difference: massive protest from many quarters (including Canadians protesting to Brookfield, which is a Canadian company); the occupiers thoroughly and very visibly scrubbing down their already quite clean site during the night; a LOT of supporters showed up overnight; and they were visibly preparing for a lockdown resistance - explaining on their site how to lock arms, bike lock themselves to things, etc. Many observers (including me) suspect Bloomberg's "clean the park" project was a thinly disguised attempt to end or cripple the occupation, but at least he recognized what a mess it would make - in SO many ways - to proceed.
So these determined interesting folks have made it over one more dramatic hurdle in their quest for a better world.
Several days ago I sent free copies of my two books (Priority Mail) to the Occupy Wall Street library. I'm happy they escaped the "cleaning" intervention. I encourage any other authors on this list to consider donating copies of their works. The ideas of people interested in co-intelligence should be made available to the protestors. The address is
The UPS Store
Re: Occupy Wall Street
118A Fulton St. #205
New York, NY 10038
While proceeding with work on my new book on empowered public wisdom, I continue to be fascinated by the ever-expanding Occupy movement. I find myself spending about half my time tracking it and its impact. It is quite a remarkable phenomenon. In this posting, I'm especially interested in their process.
Here's what's in this message:
First, I offer some fascinating charts about the inequities that inspired the protests in the first place and Senator Bernie Sanders recommendations of demands that would start ameliorating them - as well as news of some 1%ers supporting the 99%ers. Then I share a few key Occupy resource sites, including ones that will be linking up Occupy activities around the world this Saturday, Oct 15 into a "global agora" and "global general assembly".
Following that is an article describing what's happening at Occupation Wall Street site, with unusual insight into their "working groups". I find it intriguing to contemplate the similarities between OWS's use of working groups and the self-organized sessions in an Open Space conference. I wonder what other processes could be adopted for special use in this movement...
Then I share three interesting ways professional facilitators and coaches are engaging with the Occupy movement: Tree Bressen offers hot points on consensus process. Coaching Visionaries helps people decide on their best role in the movement. And Tim Bonnemann has initiated research into the Occupy movement's group processes.
After those items, I share a video taken of a General Assembly in Occupy Atlanta where the group discusses whether to hear from civil rights legend Congressman John Lewis who has come to address them - and he ends up leaving. I share the commentary by the conservative group that filmed it, and then offer my own commentary.
Finally, I offer reflections on the shadow side of such ambitious transformational work, and its evolutionary role in learning what we need to learn to actually succeed at creating the world we want.
It is all incredibly rich, filled with problems and promise. If you are (or are thinking of getting) involved in the Occupy movement, consider using the Coaching Visionaries questionnaire to explore your thoughts and feelings. It just might shed light on other areas of your life, as well - and with a bit of adaptation, it could be reconfigured to help you do just that.
Blessings on this and all the other Journeys.
Occupy Wall Street: More popular than you think
Truly remarkable bar graphs showing what the actual distribution of wealth is in the United States, what Americans think it is, and what they think it should be. A mind-boggle... bursting with potential...
To get down into the nitty gritty detail of the economic inequity over the last half century, see this fascinating slide show of 41 charts collected by Business Insider
Six Demands to Make of Wall Street
By Sen. Bernie Sanders
And for news of the 1% supporting the 99% see
Global Virtual Assembly for sharing and networking results of local General Assemblies
Over 900 events in more than 80 countries - including more than 100 in the US - scheduled for Saturday, October 15
Global Agora up and running for sending each other videos and messages
The central site for catalyzing and networking all Occupy actions
Especially this great story about the evolution of their site
and access to a growing list of co-created resources about how to create an Occupy action, including descriptions of their group processes
Working Groups as Open Space
Inside Occupy Wall Street: A Journalist-Participant Describes What Life Is Really Like (Complicated and Inspiring) at Zuccotti Park
From Tree Bressen, consensus process trainer:
I am pleased to offer a new handout called "The Top 10 Most Common Mistakes in Consensus Process and How to Avoid Them".
I was inspired to write this especially in support of the current Occupy movement, which has bunches of people participating in consensus decision-making who may not be experienced. A two-page quick handout can't replace a training, but it can help in the meantime. Please forward it to anyone you think would find it useful. Feedback welcome.
From Coaching Visionaries, a group of professional coaches:
We are currently creating this website to support the growth of the vision of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
If you'd like to be informed once it is ready, please join the Facebook group or send an email to CoachingVisionaries@gmail.com.
Coaching Visionaries is a coalition of Certified Professional Coaches that has come together to join forces with Occupy Wall Street to support the community in envisioning a better future for us all, and calling that vision forth into the world. We are here to assist you in strengthening your already-powerful voice, maintaining a peaceful community, and growing a global movement built on a foundation of solidarity and hope.
We are working one-on-one with individuals, and we are also available to join specific working groups to help you dream a bigger vision and find concrete ways to achieve the vision that is being born from this community. We can also help you connect to your own deeper self to find the strength and courage necessary to discover your own unique role within this process.
What is Coaching and How Does it Work?
Coaching is a partnership that maximizes human potential. When you work with a coach, you will not be advised as to what to do or how to do it. Your coach helps you look deeper within yourself to find your own solutions to the issues that are important to you. You start by presenting what you'd like the coach to help you with, and then the coach will ask you questions that allow you to navigate your own way to the answers that are true for you. We commit to holding a space of non-judgment and unlimited possibility in which you can feel safe to explore the outer limits of what is possible.
The coaches with Coaching Visionaries come from a perspective of aligning with your whole self. We adhere to the importance of the Mind-Body-Spirit connection. Another way of looking at this is that we work with you to engage both sides of your brain - the rational and logical left brain as well as the creative and visionary right brain.
Who is this for?
We are here for Occupy Wall Street. Any issue that is connected to the vision or challenges of this movement are welcome to be brought to us for coaching:
Are you interested in participating but not sure what your role should be?
Are you on a working group that is facing difficulties of any kind?
Were you arrested or witnessed violence and need support?
Are you a facilitator and need a fresh perspective on how to organize?
What is YOUR role in Occupy Wall Street? Why are you here?
This is an excellent question for you to address with a coach. We'd like to empower you to step fully into an active role in this process that excites you and draws on your unique talents. Occupy Wall Street needs your gifts and strengths!
If you'd like to explore your purpose in connection with the movement, please answer the questions below and then bring your answers to a coach.
Q U E S T I O N N A I R E -- Finding Your Purpose in Occupy Wall Street
If you'd like to talk to a coach about how you can become involved in the movement in the most powerful way possible for you, please take a few minutes to answer the following questions and then bring them to a coach.
What really excites you and gets you fired up about Occupy Wall Street? What is most important about what is going on here? Is there anything that you dislike about it that you would like to see change in some way?
What matters most to you in life? Include what makes you laugh, feel alive, motivates you to move and change, gives meaning to your life.
What are your core strengths and qualities? What strengths and qualities do you want to call out in yourself by being involved in Occupy Wall Street? How can your involvement in Occupy Wall Street help you grow as an individual?
How do you envision a role or possibility for yourself within the movement? Think outside the box with this one. Get creative!!!
What is a time from your life where you did something you were very proud of, or where you felt very connected to your core self?
from Tim Bonnemann, Founder and CEO, Intellitics, Inc.
As an exercise in Dialogue and Deliberation research, I'd like to collect first-hand reports from local Occupy sites on any of the following topics:
* Group methods, meeting formats (what types are being used, how well do they fit)
* Facilitation/moderation (how good is the quality, what are the challenges)
* Group decision making, incl. consensus (how robust and efficient is the process, what works or not, what are the challenges)
* "Dialogic atmosphere" (for context, please see my blog post here: http://www.intellitics.com/blog/2011/10/13/tree-bressen-the-top-10-most-common-mistakes-in-consensus-process/)
* Briefing materials (what quick guides, handbooks or other training materials for process/facilitation etc. are being used)
If you've been to any of the protest sites and noticed anything interesting in this area, please share your notes! firstname.lastname@example.org
Occupy Atlanta Silences Civil Rights Hero John Lewis!
COMMENT BY THE VIDEOGRAPHERS: Many curious citizens and media outlets came to the first Occupy Atlanta event, and were visible shocked and confused by the consistent Marxism employed by the group. People abandoned their individuality and liberty to be absorbed into a hypnotizing collective. The facilitator made it clear that he was not a "leader" and that everyone was completely equal; words often spoken by leftists, but in this case they actually applied their philosophy. Into this surreal and oppressive environment, Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights hero and icon of American leftism, came to speak as has so often done at left-wing rallies and events in Atlanta. He is practically worshiped in Democrat circles, and was visibly stunned to see these Marxists turn him away. It was reminiscent of previous Marxist revolutions in history when those who ignorantly supported the revolutionaries are, over time, purged and rejected for the "good of the collective", when their usefulness has expired.
COMMENT BY TOM ATLEE: It is fascinating to view this event through the videographers' eyes. Their perspective is so different from mine that it offers a great opportunity to reflect on how powerfully our filters shape our perceptions.
So here's my response to them: I find the filmmakers' idea that the collective overwhelmed the individual to be absurd. In consensus an individual can block the process - and did - forcing a reconsideration. The reference to "hypnotism" seems to be a misunderstanding of the repetitions required to help the whole crowd hear what's going on when there is inadequate amplification equipment. But if they are used to (and like) a leader making decisions or to hot debates filled with mutual interruptions, I can see how they would go crazy watching this laborious consensus process.
And now here's what I saw and how I interpret it:
Congressman John Lewis walked into an unfamiliar culture. Not only is that culture different from what he is used to, it is still figuring out what it is and how it works. One thing it knows is that it believes in equity. What it doesn't know yet is how to apply that value most usefully. After all, John Lewis fought all his life for equity, and probably has tremendous gifts of insight and experience to share with the occupiers. But he showed up apparently unscheduled, expecting to be given the priority consideration that he, as a political celebrity, is used to.
The occupiers were divided about whether he - or anyone - should be given the special privilege of stepping into the middle of the group's agenda to be heard. Since they were using consensus process, everyone needed to agree to turn away from their agenda and listen to John Lewis, or else the group would have to continue on with the agenda. From hand signals during the meeting it seemed that most people in the crowd wanted to both hear John Lewis and continue with their agenda. They finally decided to hear him at the end of the agenda. At which point he left. I'm not sure whether he left because he felt disrespected or dismayed or because he is, after all, a Congressman and has a busy schedule, and can't wait for the crowd to finish everything else they're considering before they listen to him. It is clear he never signed up for consensus process, probably has little experience with it, and doesn't really understand what's involved.
So did consensus work? Did it come up with a wise solution? In this case, not necessarily. One the one hand, it displayed the group's determination to live in an environment where everyone is treated equally - and to decide as a group what they are going to do without being unduly influenced by the larger culture's dynamics of privilege. On the other hand, it clearly left a significant minority (which in this case happened to include many African Americans) unsatisfied with what was happening - which is exactly what the process is designed to avoid. However, consensus is not designed for making extremely urgent decisions; it just takes too long.
So what to do? My own long-term suggestion would be for the process working group to come to terms with this limitation of consensus and begin consciously observing when it becomes a problem and developing ways to address each type of urgent situation they observe. In this case, what was lost was an opportunity to learn from and be inspired by John Lewis. One approach would be to have those in the group that wanted to engage with John Lewis, quickly form a John Lewis working group and go to a different part of the occupation site to talk with him - and then bring their learnings back to the larger group when he leaves. However, then they would not have been able to participate in the General Assembly decisions. They would have to trust the group. There may be better solutions, but you get the idea. Choices often involve trade-offs and if we want to use consensus we have to acknowledge its limits, face the trade-offs involved, and create options to deal with them.
My biggest overall response to this video is poignant compassion for these people wrestling with the challenges of creating a new culture AND a fervent hope that they constantly reflect on their experience and refuse to stagnate in any particular box, even the radical box of consensus process. Co-creation - and the need to do it consciously - never stops...
From Riyana-Rebecca Sang <email@example.com>
...the Occupy Together groups are starting to have to face the
reality that it is downright difficult to reach our ideal of bringing
together people from all walks of life, with disparate belief systems,
communication styles, education and cultural backgrounds, etc. into one
force that can challenge those in power and lead to laws and policies that
serve a united majority and our sweet garden planet home rather than the
In conversations on the margins of the crowds, people
admit sheepishly about feeling left out for being the vegan, the queer, the
heterosexual, the anarchist punk, the suburban mom, the elder with decades
of experience, the young kid stepping out into the world of activism for the
first time. These moments are the shadows of unity – moments that show us
the growing edges of where we need to go and teach us the tools that we need
to develop in order to get there....
We all want the deep work of great change but we are never actually
prepared for how hard its going to be, or how our personal shadows can snake
through even the most conscious intentions to ambush us from behind. And
that’s how its supposed to be. We can imagine what it would feel like to be
our biggest, brightest selves, and we can envision what this world would be
like if we could truly come together to heal, protect, and nourish our
communities and ecosystems, but it’s the dirty, difficult work of wading
through the shadows that gives us the skills, capacities, and tools to
manifest them and get to the next level. We may have a sense of the what,
but the how comes with the journey, developed through the growing pains of
evolution. Part of that growth process is shining a bright light into the
shadows, not to dis-spell their darkness, but to see what is there and what
we can learn from diving deep into them.
A Cure for Collective Insanity?
Dawning realizations re Occupy Wall Street
The following is cross-posted from my main blog site, here. (See comments posted there too.)
It is slowly dawning on me that I've seen events very similar to Occupy Wall Street.
The first time was on the Great Peace March in 1986 which started out from Los Angeles as a hierarchical mega-PR event with 1200 people and tons of equipment. It suddenly and traumatically went bankrupt in the Mojave Desert two weeks later. 800 marchers went home. 400 marchers didn't. It took them (us) two weeks sitting around an BMX track in Barstow to reorganize with no formal leaders (but tons of ambient leadership) and little support (but tons of vulnerability that soon attracted grassroots support). As we re-started our 3000-mile trek with 400 people, it turned into a 9 month miracle of self-organization (I mean, where DO you put 400 people each night 15 or so miles further down the road?!!), out of which came my first experiences of and ideas about collective intelligence, which led to my life work today. The lives of hundreds of other people were transformed by that March, whose emergent troubadours sang "echoes of our care will last forever..". The folks at Occupy Wall Street are doing a similar experiment in passion-driven self-organization.
The other comparable events I've seen were run by Open Space and World Cafe - especially Open Space. Remember?: The two legs of Open Space are "passion" and "responsibility", which combine into that remarkable guidance formulated by Peggy Holman as "Take responsibility for what you love as an act of service." Are we seeing that in Occupy Wall Street, or what?! Then there's "It starts whenever it starts." "Whoever comes is the right people." "Whatever happens is the only thing that could have" and "When it is over, its over." In Open Space there are two exploratory plenary sharings each day. For most of the day, though, there's no preordained agenda - only people gathering in groups to do what they want to do together. Or being "butterflies" (going off on their own, often stumbling into random conversations) or "bumble-bees" (going from group to group, cross pollinating). No one is "in charge".
The whole thing holds together because those who are present share a passion. In Occupy Wall Street, the shared passion is a desire to reclaim human life and community from "Wall Street" - the greed-based, hierarchical corporate-financial system that has colonized and degraded our minds, lives, politics, economics, world, and future. That passion has a thousand manifestations, which are the polyphonous "issues" that swarm around Liberty Square like bees in a meadow.
So I realized: OF COURSE Occupy Wall Street doesn't have "demands." Demonstrations and protests have demands. But although O.W.S. LOOKS like a protest and a demonstration (and occasionally turns into one), it is actually something more, something else: It is a passionate community of inquiry acting itself out as an archetypal improvisational street theater performance embodying, in one hand, people's longings for the world as it could be and, in the other, their intense frustrations with the world as it is. These longings and frustrations reside in the whole society, not just in the occupiers.
The occupiers are behaving and reaching out in ways that release and activate those suppressed transformational energies all over the country and world. (Arny and Amy Mindell call such archetypal energies "timespirits" after "Zeitgeist", the spirit of the times.) To think of Occupation Wall Street as primarily a demonstration or protest misses the profound novelty and power of what they are doing. All of us - they and we - are figuring out what it is they are doing as they do it. They are kinda building the road as they travel.
That the whole thing wasn't consciously built according to any plan - that it EMERGED - is both its power and its limitation. We would do well to think about how to combine such powerful spontaneity with transformational processes (like Open Space and World Cafe) that use self-organization to help spread evocative energy from a dynamic center like Occupy Wall Street out into the society, transmuting that society's latent frustrations and longings into a force that can shift the energy of the whole System towards Life. I sense a new form of activism, of citizenship, of aliveness being born here. Each of us gets to ask what role we want to play in that flowing, creative Mystery. And the roles we inevitably play inevitably become part of the inevitable river as the ice inevitably melts...
A few recent insightful articles about Occupy Wall Street...
• On the eve of my trip to Occupy Boston
• #OccupyWallStreet is a Church of Dissent, Not a Protest
• Andrew Ross Sorkin's assignment editor
• What the Environmental Movement Can Learn From the Wall Street Zombies
Being Stressed Out as a Spiritual Practice
"Being Stressed Out As a Spiritual Practice?!" Say, what?
You’re probably thinking: “Wow, I’m way, waaaaaay more spiritual than I ever thought. If being stressed out is a spiritual practice, then I’m right up there with the Dalai Lama!”
Or perhaps (more likely) you're thinking: “You’re joking, right?”
No, I’m serious! But let me back up for a minute.
We know that biologically, during evolution, good things (like eyes, brains, etc.) are selected for only if they are needed at the time. After all, if a creature can survive OK without the latest mutation, then it will do so, and the latest mutation won’t spread across the population. Hence, everything I appreciate, like being able to walk, think and see, are all the results of huge amounts of struggle, without which we’d all still be pond scum. Like that ‘80’s workout slogan, “No pain, no gain”.
And look at what we are blessed with! Powerful bodies made of incomparable molecular 'machines', eyes, the most advanced brain known of in the Universe, and more – each the result of an unthinkable amount of hardship – or it simply would not have been selected for.
When one deeply appreciates this mountain of struggle we all stand upon, our daily difficulties take on new meaning. Challenges (ours and our ancestor's), as bad as they may be in the moment, are what gave all of us much of what we value most! If I sat around and did nothing in a cushy life, I’d feel that I’d let those Ancestors down, that I wasn’t a worthy recipient of the wondrous gifts they bequeathed me.
So whenever I feel pressure or difficulty, I know that it's very much like that which allowed me to be, and that pressure can help me grow. I couldn’t feel it without some taste of stress. In fact, our lives today have a lot less stress than existed in many of those past lives! Few of us, after all, are just hoping to be breathing tomorrow, which at times in the past was really in doubt on a regular basis. So, though I don’t intentionally try to get unneeded stress, I remind myself that every drop of stress I get is a gateway to deeper appreciation of every good thing in the world today.
Yes, being stressed out is indeed a spiritual practice, if I choose to make it so.
~ Jon Cleland Host
Larry Goes Clubbing
Last weekend, I was invited to go out for drinks and dancing at one of the local watering holes. The group that I was going with was mostly women.
*Larry the Lounge Lizard starts to perk up here*
Also, I hear clubs are notoriously full of scantily clad lady folk.
*Now Larry is really paying attention*
To further complicate the issue, my girlfriend has been out of town for the past two weeks. So speaking frankly, Larry (and Shane!) have been missing her ... a lot!
What is a testosterone-filled young man supposed to do in this situation?
Science has shown that when a man’s primary partner is away, his testosterone levels elevate, as does his sperm count. Evolution would have it so, apparently, because in the ancient (maybe not so ancient) past, this was prime time for a man to possibly land an EPC. That’s code for, what biologists routinely call, “extra-pair copulation.”
Higher testosterone = think more about sex and take more risks.
Hmmm . . .
Fortunately, armed with this knowledge, I can now know what challenges to expect, and I can pre-decide how to deal with them.
I am committed to not cheating. However, I also have a deep appreciation and reverence for the power of my instincts, especially when alcohol is involved and inhibitions are thereby lowered and judgment is clouded.
So what did I do?
With Larry whispering inside my head, trying to fulfill his ancient yearnings, I decided to create a game of sorts. It would be a game to see just how impeccable I could be in my actions, and a game to honor my girlfriend. Undoubtedly also, this game would strengthen the “muscles” of my prefrontal cortex that must be trained and exercised to do the “harder thing” — harder meaning, going against our primal instincts (sorry, Larry!).
The day before Larry and I were scheduled to go clubbing, I called up a trusted friend and explained the game:
“I want to commit to only having 3 drinks and also acting in such a way that if there was a video camera on me, and my girlfriend was going to see the tape the next day, she would be proud of my behavior — and feel very honored by me.”
I also shared this game with my girlfriend — which was not at all a scary thing to do. Ever since she and I took time together to read about the basics of our evolved male and female brains (see the links below), I have been able to authentically share what most of us guys assume we just have to keep hidden: that we do notice hot women, and that our Larrys do perk up. (See my earlier post, when I introduced “Larry” as my own playful name for the lustful part of my brain that harks back to when humanity’s ancient ancestor was still a reptile.)
Actually, I didn’t just explain the game to Meredith. Once she got the gist, she and I started joking around about all the hot women that would attract Larry’s attention, but that I, trustworthy Shane, would not be flirting with.
The night was a breeze (and still a ton of fun!). I danced with my female friends, I had my three drinks, and I completely honored my girlfriend and our relationship.
Would I have been fine had I not been playing this game? Absolutely. It was never about “keeping the reins” on out-of-control habits. It was simply a way of honoring my instincts and honoring what's most important to me, which is the trust in my relationship.
If you are a man who has struggled with straying or flirting outside of your relationship — and if you are committed to faithful monogamy — I encourage you to learn about your brain’s evolutionary machinery. Then you can choose to practice honoring its deeply rooted desires, as well as your higher values and commitments.
When you can authentically love those deep drives, without succumbing to their every whim, (and your partner can too), be prepared to enjoy a “lightness of being” and playfulness that's unlike anything else!
NOTE: Links to some of Meredith's and my favorite resources on this subject:
Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality (How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships) - Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha
Strange Bedfellows: The Surprising Connection Between Sex, Evolution and Monogamy - David P. Barash and Judith Eve Lipton
You Still Don't Understand: Typical Differences Between Men and Women—and How to Resolve Them - Richard Driscoll and Nancy Ann Davis
The Female Brain and The Male Brain - Louann Brizendine
Evolutionary Psychology I: The Science of Human Nature - Allen D. MacNeill
The Evidential Reformation: Humanity Comes of Age
“We will never achieve a just and sustainably lifegiving future on the resources of the existing religious traditions, and we can’t get there without them.” ~ Thomas Berry
The 21st century will be seen historically as humanity’s rite of passage. We’re growing up as a species, going through the very same process we’ve all gone through as we mature. As children we’re guided by beliefs and we think the world was made for us. As adults, we’re guided by knowledge and we live our lives (at least in part) as a contribution to others and the world. Indeed, for healthy adults, self-giving is actually one of life’s greatest satisfactions. As well, most of us needed no special training or incentives to begin questioning the beliefs we were spoon-fed as children – just the usual dose of hormones and peer focus that signals adolescence.
These two transformations, from beliefs to knowledge and from self-focus to contribution, are precisely what we’re now collectively experiencing. I call this species-wide rite of passage the “Evidential Reformation,” and I believe it is destined to transform not only the science-and-religion debate and how religious traditions relate to one another, but, even more importantly, how humans relate to the larger body of life of which we are part and upon which we depend.
Big history, also known as the epic of evolution, is our common creation narrative. It is the first origin story in the history of humanity that is globally produced, derived entirely from evidence, and will soon be taught to high school students around the world (see here, here, and the YouTube clip at the end of this post).
In our “childhood” as a species – as tribes, then villages, then chiefdoms and kingdoms, then city-states and early nations – our main source of guidance came from religious beliefs. Shared allegiance to a particular religion that bridged even ethnic and linguistic differences was a crucial factor in the rise of civilizations across the globe. Consider: our instinctual heritage as social mammals will suffice for fostering cooperation at the scale of a clan. (Biologists call these instinctive forms of cooperation kin selection and reciprocal altruism.) Mutually advantageous trade then facilitated greater circles of cooperation. But for 10,000 or more human beings to be induced to cooperate: for that, you need religion – a singular, shared, unquestioned religion, and probably one that doles out harsh consequences (including ostracism) for apostates.
A multitude of religions arose independently of course, because in any bioregion where fierce competition for territory or resources arose, there would have been a survival advantage to groups that could forge cross-clan alliances for mutual defense. As well, there are two functional issues that all cultures need to address: what’s real and what’s important. (In a six-minute YouTube video based on his book, Religion Is Not About God, philosopher of religion Loyal Rue refers to these two functions as “how things are” and “which things matter.”) These two functional issues will be answered differently based upon where and when you live and upon the happenstance of interpretive imagination of one’s ancestors. Each “wisdom tradition” thus reflects regional collective intelligence encoded mythically. That is, the regional collective intelligence is encoded in pre-scientific language that reflects a people’s daytime and nighttime experience. (See here for a discussion of “Day and Night Language,” which was a central concept in my book, Thank God for Evolution.)
In our “adolescence” as a species (which was a threshold crossed as the modern era swept the globe), we began to question the beliefs, interpretations, and meanings we had inherited. The birth of this new form of collective intelligence, global collective intelligence, occurred when access to powerful new technologies (beginning with the telescope) ramped up our ability to discern how things are. We then faced the frightening truth that ancient understandings were not, in fact, the best maps of what is real. This challenging process is still facing much of the world, as traditional religious beliefs are increasingly found to be obsolete and simply no longer credible when interpreted literally.
Some individuals thrilled to the prospect of participating in this threshold event: of valuing measurable observation, rationality, and collectively encouraged skepticism and testing as the preferred means for discerning what’s real and what’s important. In the 19th century these “natural philosophers” became known as “scientists.”
The two institutions responsible for ensuring that the self-interest of individuals and groups are aligned – namely, governance and religion – were impacted differently by the rise of modern science. Democratic forms of governance were the first to embrace evidence as authoritative. Religions are only now beginning to catch up and to not only experience the terror but also taste the thrill of what the Evidential Reformation offers.
Like any rite of passage, once one voluntarily steps through the threshold there is no integrous and healthy way of going back. So of course there are shrill voices of protest and deep institutional inertia.
But ultimately, this shift will happen. One by one, segment by segment, the great religions of the world will pass through the threshold – else they will wither and the new generations will leave them entirely behind.
What the Evidential Reformation offers for religion is centrally this: Science reveals “God’s word” for humanity today – that is, what’s real and what’s important, or how things are and which things matter – far more accurately than the Bible or Qur’an could ever hope to. And Moses, Jesus, the Apostle Paul, and the Prophet Mohammad would surely be among the first to applaud this trend were they alive today.
Yet, until faith leaders become a whole lot bolder in proclaiming to their flocks the goodness and necessity of this shift, religious people will remain blind and deaf to what God (Reality personified) is revealing today through scientific, historic, and cross-cultural evidence. And that means that God/Reality will continue using the New Atheists to mock unchanging religious beliefs and those who espouse such beliefs.
The main hindrance to religious people wholeheartedly embracing evidence as divine communication – divine guidance (i.e., how Reality reveals itself) – has been what I have long been characterizing as idolatry of the written word (also here). Idolatry of the written word occurred anywhere in the world where ancient oral stories (which surely evolved for millennia as conditions and needs changed) became frozen into unchanging scripture – scripture that was then deemed as the foundational (even the sole) locus for discerning priorities, values, right thinking, and right behavior.
This shift from oral storytelling to unchanging scripture as the way wisdom, morality, and a sense of the sacred (supreme value) is generationally passed forward set the stage (albeit centuries later) for a profound and now exponentially expanding mismatch. This mismatch is between globally shared and empirically tested updates of (once-again) evolving wisdom versus what religious people still preference as “God’s Word”.
Idolatry of the written word has thus led to what could be considered “demonic beliefs.” I do not hesitate to use such harsh language because any and all beliefs that cause good people to do bad things and to vote in evil ways (ways that are shortsighted, self-centered, and harmful to future generations) are demonic. And who among us does not see where such beliefs have led to a kind of collective insanity? The only cure, as far as I can tell, is for religious leaders to accept – indeed, to celebrate – that scientific, historic, and cross-cultural evidence are the actual venues through which Reality/God is speaking and guiding humanity today. Fortunately, this shift is happening rapidly…and seems likely to be fleshed out in just another generation or two.
I do not decry or disvalue this aspect of religious history. Indeed, I accept that idolatry of the written word could not have been avoided. Without the shift to literacy, humanity would never have been able to access the fruits of modernity: the rule of law, exponentially growing knowledge, cumulative technological and medical advances, and a widening sense of one’s “in-group” and compassionate treatment thereof.
Nonetheless, the negative social consequences of this form of idolatry have been quite severe – and threaten to become even more terrifying and destructive as deadly weapons come in ever smaller packages. It is thus time to prophetically speak out against continued favoring of ancient scriptural ‘authority’ over our best collective understandings of facts and values today. Said another way, the Church, currently shipwrecked (also here) on the immovable rock of “biblical authority”, can still be saved, but only by embracing “the authority of evidence”. Reality would have it no other way.
One of the most significant and hopeful insights to emerge from the early days of the Evidential Reformation is a re-envisioning of what “self-interest” really is. Self-interest actually exists at all biological and cultural levels – not just at the obvious, individual level. Indeed, the key to ever-increasing social complexity in the human realm over the past 10,000 years has been the aligning of self-interest at multiple levels. It could even be argued that nothing is more important for ensuring a just and thriving future than aligning the natural self-interest of individuals, corporations, and nation-states with the wellbeing of the body of life as a whole. The outcome of this shift would be to make competition co-operative, self-interest nontoxic, and society wise.
One could thus conclude that humanity’s “Great Work” in the 21st century is to co-create global and bioregional governance such that individuals and groups that benefit the common good benefit themselves, while individuals and groups that disregard or harm the common good are taxed, penalized, or face moral strictures.
By organizing and managing ourselves so that the impact of parts on the whole, for good or ill, are reflected back to the parts, we shall create a system through which individuals, corporations, and nations are incentivized to do what is just and ecological – while simultaneously being incentivized to not do what is unjust or un-ecological. This aligning of self-interest at multiple scales would ensure that what is perceived as the cheaper, easier, more convenient thing to do is also the right thing to do, rather than the harmful thing, as it is now. This re-incentivizing of societal goods and services to comport with human nature (as it really is, not as we wish it would be) would also help all elements of society to access and make decisions based on humanity’s collective intelligence (also here and here).
The promise of the Evidential Reformation, as I see it, is this: As the world’s great religious traditions come to honor and celebrate evidence as divine guidance, and big history as our common creation story, they will begin to wield their moral authority in ways that assist, rather than resist, the passage of our species out of the desert of destructive and unsustainable adolescence and into the promised land of contributing and fulfilled maturity.
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What follows is the new preface...
As we recently observed the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of his landmark book, On the Origin of Species, evolution has become firmly established as the central organizing principle of the biological sciences. Natural explanations for the growth of complexity through time ground all the other sciences, as well, from cosmology and chemistry to neuroscience and psychology. That everything within this universe has emerged through natural processes operating over vast spans of time is now well beyond dispute among scientists and the educated public. Yet even today, families and public school systems remain divided and the evolutionary worldview is still shunned by millions, perhaps billions, of religious believers around the world. Why?
One reason is surely that big changes in thought and perspective take time to be assimilated. A deeper reason is that humans do not live by truth alone. We require the sustenance of meaning—of beauty, goodness, relationship, and purpose. We require comfort in times of sorrow and suffering. We also require perspectives that encourage us to cooperate in ever-wider circles in order to solve ever-larger problems—problems that today encircle the globe.
So long as the scientific worldview is presented in ways that ignore these basic human values—values that religions excel in providing—there is little hope that the devoutly religious will appreciate science for anything more than its technological fruits. The good news is that the coming decades will see each of our religious, ethnic, and cultural stories embraced within a larger sacred context. The scientific history of cosmos, Earth, life, and humanity is our shared sacred story—our common creation myth. It is an epic tale that reaches back billions of years and crowns each and every one of us as heir to a magnificent and proud lineage. This Great Story is open to improvement, as the revelations of science yield new insights, offer new ways of seeing, and alert us to misperceptions. It is open to change, too, whenever more helpful and inspiring interpretations of the facts become available. All this is possible, moreover, without scientists needing to fear that religious interpretations will skew or shade the truth. Nor must religious peoples join the ranks of atheists.
In public lectures that distill the contents of this book, time and again I have seen faces light up when I explain the distinction between private revelation and public revelation and when I advocate the importance of both day language and night language. Both pairs help us value the contributions of objective science without dismissing the subjective realms—artistic, emotive, and spiritual—that served our ancestors for thousands of years and still vitally serve us today. During seven years of itinerant evolutionary evangelism, I have watched young and old alike delight in the astonishing fact that we are made of stardust—that the calcium in our bones, the iron in our blood, and other atoms of our bodies were forged inside ancestor stars that lived and died before our Sun was born. I have seen, too, this naturalized and cosmic understanding of death comfort those whose grief would not otherwise be consoled.
Scaling down to the inner realm, I have witnessed tearful testimonials from those freed from years of guilt, shame, or resentment after learning our brain’s creation story—that is, how the brain, with its embedded instincts, reflects an evolutionary trajectory from reptilian ancestors to early mammals, primates, and hominids. Others are grateful for the practical tools for improving lives and relationships that an evolutionary understanding of human nature affords. Still others have found that the supernatural claims that linger in the creeds and liturgies need not drive them from cherished traditions of their faith.
Sanity, health, and joy each emerge and are sustained only in right relationship with reality. Thank God for Evolution is thus a call to integrity, to wholeness, to sustainability—individually and collectively. In the year since its publication, events have validated and expanded the understanding of deep integrity outlined herein. From sex scandals in politics to crimes of greed on Wall Street, the underbelly of modernity and postmodernity is now vividly apparent. Thanks to discoveries in evolutionary psychology and evolutionary brain science, however, we can begin to improve institutions so that vital social structures can thrive despite human foibles. Equally, we can look to a future in which religious worldviews are free of the fundamentalism that fuels extremism.
How was the world made? Why do earthquakes, tornados, and other bad things happen? Why must we die? And why do different peoples answer these questions in different ways? The big questions that children have always asked and will continue to ask cannot be answered by the powers of human perception alone. Ancient cultures gave so-called supernatural answers to these questions, but those answers were not truly supernatural—they were prenatural. Prior to advances in technology and scientific ways of testing truth claims, factual answers were simply unavailable. It was not just difficult to understand infection before microscopes brought bacteria into focus; it was impossible. Without an evolutionary worldview, it is similarly impossible to understand ourselves, our world, and what is required for humanity to survive. For religious leaders today to rely on prenatural answers puts them at odds not only with science but with one another—dangerously so. Their resistance, however, does make sense. Until scientific discoveries are fleshed into the life-giving forms of beauty and goodness (as well as truth and utility), scriptural literalism will command power and influence.
A meaningful view of evolution is good news for individuals and families, and also for communities, nations, and our world.
It is good news at these larger levels because a sacred, deep-time understanding of history and our evolutionary heritage is the very foundation needed for facing global challenges of our own making. It will encourage us to act, moreover, with compassion and inspired dedication. I offer this book and its stories of awakening toward this noble and necessary end.
» Hear Michael Dowd read the new preface to the paperback here.
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Stuart Davis talks with Michael Dowd on Integral Life
Michael Dowd, celebrated author of the book Thank God for Evolution, talks with Stuart Davis about his own journey from religious fundamentalism to evolutionary spirituality, the contours of his evolutionary approach, his relationship with his wife and teaching partner Connie, his response to the New Atheist movement, and his hopes about the future of evolution on this planet. He and Stuart also discuss the secret to Michael's conciliatory approach to teaching, which has enabled him to speak amicably with both religious fundamentalists and scientific materialists alike, while helping to build conceptual and relational bridges to cross the gap between science and spirituality.
"I certainly think that the new atheists are providing a tremendous service at one level. They are critiquing and attacking mythic, other-worldly, supernatural religion. And I think that is one thing that needs to be done in the world at this time. It's certainly not the only thing, and I'm glad they're doing what they're doing and I'm playing a different role in the Body of Life. I'm glad that the creationists are playing their role in the Body of Life! It's certainly not a role I want to be playing—but you know, I wouldn't want my anal sphincter cells and my heart cells to be doing the same thing! I found that the Integral model helped me to formulate a way of holding the whole, a way of holding diversity that allows me to say 'yes' to the role that other people are playing in the Body of Life, but also differentiating passionately...."
The Future of Religion
One of the many empowering realizations that an evolutionary worldview gives us is that we can make some reasonable guesses about the future based on long term trends of the past. We can enter the future with trust and with our eyes open, poised for some likely scenarios, instead of being blindly buffeted by inscrutable Fates. In chapters 16 and 17 of Thank God for Evolution, Michael Dowd shows that if the 14 billion year history of the universe were compressed into a single century, then the next minute on the cosmic century timeline would represent 250 years. Surely, we should be able to make a few accurate assumptions about the next minute if we know the past 100 years of history!
Some events can't be predicted very well, such as distant supernovae or the direction of next week's stock market movement. Others, however, are the result of long-term trends, and can at least be estimated based on those trends. For instance, world population has been increasing rapidly for centuries, and it appears likely to continue to do so for several decades into the future. When our day-to-day experience is affected by long-term trends, those trends can predict part of what our future (and our kids' future) will be like. Out of all the aspects of society that affect our lives, let's look at religion.
If you are an American Gen X'er like me, you probably grew up in a world where the dominant religion was an unquestioned, moderate, mainline (Protestant or Roman Catholic) Christianity. I remember some religious conflict in society (such as the fight over female ministers), but also remember times without conflict. How much should I trust those memories of mine?
Anecdotal evidence (the memories and experiences of one or several people) is naturally a powerful force in our evolved minds. After all, it's the only kind of evidence that our Ancestors had available for well over 99.9% of our existence. It makes sense that we have evolved to pay a lot of attention to it. However, our experiences are terribly limited, our recall quite selective, and our memories malleable by desire and expectation. This is why anecdotal evidence is often not worth the paper it is (sometimes) printed on, and why it takes a conscious effort for us to go beyond it.
Luckily, the modern world often gives us powerful and effective supplements to anecdotal evidence. The 20th century, unlike any century before it, generated a wealth of detailed data on an astounding array of subjects. To ignore this evidence when looking into any subject is like driving with your eyes closed. It's stupid, pointless, and often harmful. So let's look at some recent religious trends...
The First Measured Century, by T. Caplow shows us some of these data, while many other studies provide additional data. Since 1900, moderate Christian denominations, like the Episcopal Church, have been shrinking, while more fundamentalist groups, like the Pentecostals, have been growing. Even though this growth has been going on for a long time, in comparison to moderate-to-liberal Christianity, mainline Christians were still the overwhelming majority until recently. Now, even evangelicalism is in serious decline in America. For more about this, read the provocative and much discussed recent article in the Christian Science Moniter: "The Coming Evangelical Collapse", written by Michael Spencer, a well-respected evangelical blogger.) The last two decades have also seen an increase of the "non-religious": Agnostics, Atheists, and a resurgence of Deists.
The recent data from the ARIS (American Religious Identification Survey) just published on March 9th confirms that these trends are continuing today. For instance, this survey found that the non-religious continue to increase, now reaching 15%, up from just 8% in 1990. Similarly, the proportion of Christians in the U. S. continues to decrease, down to 76% from 86% in 1990 and 93% in 1965 (Rasmussen data). Minority religions experienced growth of over 10% per decade, from 3.3% in 1990 to 3.9% in 2008. However, the biggest shock was the drop in the mainline, moderate, Protestant Christian faiths that defined much of American culture for so long. Nearly 20% of Americans were mainline Protestants in 1990, 17% in 2001, and just 12.9% in 2008. Perhaps most importantly, the young are the least likely to identify with mainline Protestant Christianity. We've also seen an explosive growth of "ex-Catholics"
So what does this tell us about our future? Because these trends have been going on for decades or centuries (depending on the trend), it seems likely that they will continue. It seems hard for many of us to imagine a United States where Christianity is a minority religion, yet that appears likely within the lifetimes of many of us. The remaining Christians will be mostly fundamentalists. Religious diversity will be the norm, with large proportions of the non-religious and increased Muslim, Hindu, and other populations. Can you imagine a future world where many people haven't even heard of tiny sects like Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans and Baptists? How can we imagine such a radically different religious landscape?
One easy way is to simply look across the pond to Europe, where these same trends are farther along. Like the probable future United States, Europe currently has growing minority religions, a shrinking Christianity, and a large Non-Christian (or Post-Christian) population. This can be seen in the 2005 Eurobarometer poll, which found that only 52% of Europeans believed in God, with even lower rates among the young. Because the countries in Europe vary greatly in regard to religion, some countries show this much more than others.
Do we need more confirmation of these trends? What is going in Australia, a third large chunk of western culture? In 1901, Australians were over 95% Christian. This dropped to 76% by 1981, and to 64% by 2006. Minority religions are rapidly growing (and were at 5.6% in 2006), and the Non-Religious have grown from near zero in 1966 to between 20 and 30% in 2006, and are even higher among the young.
In all of these Western cultures, the highest numbers for both the non-religious and the minority religions are among the young, who will become the culture of the future in all these areas. As a result, as the young grow up these trends will likely continue, in addition to any acceleration due to the cultural changes that are driving them from the start. Confirmation of this comes from recent data on Canadian teens. Compared to mid 80's, 30% fewer teens identify as Catholics, over 60% fewer teens identify as Protestants, and today there are more teens in Canada who identify as Muslims than as Protestant. Over the same period, the number of professed Atheists among Canadian teens tripled.
These data certainly came as a shock to me. They may come as a shock to you. They no doubt would come as a major shock to the millions of Americans who wrap Christianity and America together in their minds. In fact, a 2006 study found that in America, Atheists are more widely hated than any other studied group, including homosexuals, Muslims, and African Americans. Unlike being homosexual, Muslim, or African American, simply being an Atheist disqualifies a person from being president of the United States in the minds of most Americans. With the non-religious being second only to Christianity in numbers in the United States, it's no surprise that we've all seen the growing animosity on both sides of the God debates, as well as the escalation following the appearance of the New Atheists. (See Connie Barlow's blog post: "A Place at the Podium")
Are these trends and the attitudes of millions of Christians (especially in the United States) on a collision course? Is our near future and that of our kids going to be marred by hatred and conflict between Christians, Muslims, Atheists, and others? As we've seen throughout history, few human differences can result in as much violence as differences over religion, such as when the religious wars of the Protestant Reformation killed literally millions of Europeans over the course of two centuries. It is chilling to realize that most of the religious carnage that has occurred in recent centuries did so without the aid of nuclear and chemical weapons, which have since become a common addition to arsenals around the world. What will religious conflict be like with them?
A tragic future is not, of course, inevitable. An evolutionary worldview provides us with a way to call into being new interpretations of every religious (and non-religious) path, interpretations that are vibrant, healthy, living, and perhaps most important of all, harmonious. As someone on the Evolutionary Paganism (Earth-honoring) path, I'm happy to see the growth of Evolutionary Christianity, Evolutionary Islam, and so on. I happily promote Evolutionary Christianity among those whom it will fit. I'm a Pagan promoting a form of Christianity? Yes! The evolutionary forms of religion really do fit together harmoniously, and they really do expand our circles of care and concern to embrace the whole planet. This harmony is but one of the many gifts of the evolutionary expressions of each religious tradition.
What are these new, evolutionary forms of the venerable religious traditions? They are simply the core religious concepts of each tradition, practiced in the light of the current discoveries of science and our evolutionary past and future in ways that inspire and empower. They are discovered when those within each tradition translate their own religious metaphors and symbols to make them relevant, real, inspiring, and universally true. This is nothing new. All religious paths grew and changed as their adherents revitalized their religions again and again over time. To see this happening today is evidence of a living faith that has not stagnated. Michael Dowd goes through this process for Christianity in Section III of his book, Thank God For Evolution (and in the recent blog posts "Christian Naturalism" and "How and Why I'm a Pentecostal Evangelical"). Others have begun this process for other faith traditions.
Evolutionary forms of all religious paths also evaporate the conflict between believers in God and Atheists. An evolutionary understanding of God is not something can be disbelieved in - the evolutionary God is as obviously and undeniably real as our own bodies. This is discussed in detail in many previous blog posts here, such as "Metaphorical Gods vs. Reality: Part 1 and Part 2". When evolutionary forms of religion and non-religion are adopted, the whole Atheist/Theist question becomes irrelevant, and we are all freed to celebrate our lives together, and freed to concentrate on the real problems of building a bright and sustainable future for our great great grandchildren. (See Michael Dowd's blog posts: "Creatheism: Evolutionary Emergence Ends the Theism-Atheism Debate" and "The Silly Debate Over God's Existence."
The trends we are seeing today are moving faster than many of us realize. As the past four billion years of life on our Earth has shown us, Evolutionary Emergence generally speeds up over time. To keep our species from being caught unprepared for these changes, pioneers across the globe are helping to usher in the religious revival needed to prevent much of the future religious conflict before it happens. The fact that traditional, flat-Earth religions are withering even without a clear competitor shows how needed all of these real, fulfilling evolutionary forms of spirituality are today. In the West, perhaps the second most important evolutionary spirituality that must be built is that of a meaningful, purposeful, Evolutionary Humanism. It is a path so poorly developed that the majority of Americans have never even heard of it, or its sister paths of Religious Naturalism and Neo-Pantheism. Few attempts have been made at this important part of the Great Work of building our future culture - though some great beginnings do exist, such as the ongoing work by Connie Barlow and Ursula Goodenough. In discussions with other people with a naturalistic worldview, I rarely hear more meaning and purpose than the banal nihilism of "we all just decompose eventually anyway". The Great Story—the Epic of Evolution—can be a tremendous source of meaning and value for evolutionary forms of all religions, traditional and non-traditional, and for freethinkers as well.
We each make decisions every day that speed or slow the emergence of a just and thriving future for planet Earth and it's diverse species. For the sake of your kids, and mine, I hope we are making decisions that will help us build this inclusive, evolutionary, science affirming culture sooner rather than later.
All of the estimates of the religious landscape in any area are likely to change depending on the wording of the questions asked as well as methodological differences (such as whether or not children are included). For this reason, sources are provided for all the numbers used in this blog post, and the reader is encouraged to check the data from various sources. Some of the main sources used include:
The Cosmic Century (the 14 billion year history of the Universe condensed down to 100 years) is explained in greater detail starting on Page 277 in Thank God for Evolution, by Michael Dowd. A similar condensation (Earth's history condensed to a single year) can be seen in Carl Sagan's Cosmos, Episode 2.
The First Measured Century by Theodore Caplow is available in many bookstores, including online bookstores.
The entire ARIS 2008 Survey is available as a free download, which also contains a summary.
Pre-1990 data on the proportion of Christians in the US can be found here.
Detailed statistics on the explosive growth of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity can be found in "Spirit and Power—a 10 Country Survey of Pentecostals" by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, October 2006.
The Entire 2005 Eurobarometer poll can be downloaded here. Note that the poll allows for the selection of "some universal spirit or life force" instead of "God", however, being the question being address was the prevalence of Christianity, only belief in "God" was considered so as to separate Christians from those with a more Deistic or New Age view of divinity.
Data on the religious landscape in Australia give slightly different numbers depending on the source. The approximately 30% non-religious estimate is from Flinders Social monitor (Gladigau K., West, Dr B., Flinders Social Monitor, No. 8, April 2007 (ISSN 1834-3783), while the 20% non-religious estimate is from the Australian Census Bureau, and can be accessed here.
Data on the beliefs of Canadian teens is available HERE.
Poll data on hatred in the United States toward Atheists can be found in Penny Edgell; Joseph Gerteis, and Douglas Hartmann (April 2006). "Atheists As 'Other': Moral Boundaries and Cultural Membership in American Society". American Sociological Review 71 (2): 218.
From Mystery to Wonder: Science vs. God of the Gaps
"Science cannot explain the origin of life," a man told me as I managed the book table at my husband's evening program recently. The man had been explaining how he had come to accept evolution while maintaining his belief in God. Then a younger man entered the conversation, warning, "But science may one day crack that mystery, too." I concurred, "A God of the Gaps is a dangerous approach for resolving science and faith."
Michael's program that evening (23 March 2009) was his newest illustrated talk, "Evolution and the Global Integrity Crisis", which he also will also be presenting at the United Nations. We were at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church near Philadelphia. The event drew an audience from the surrounding Philadelphia community. It was co-sponsored by the Metropolitan Christian Council of Philadelphia, Metanexus Institute, Narbarth Havurah, Church of the Redeemer, Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, St. Luke United Methodist Church, and The Earth Center of the Delaware Watershed.
In order to make time for the global integrity theme in his new program, Michael had dropped some of the theology that he ordinarily presents (and that entails a large chunk of his book, Thank God for Evolution). Specifically, he had excised the arguments leading up to a bold assertion: "An understanding of God that does not at least include the entire creative process of the Universe is, given our modern understandings, a trivial notion of God." Alas, absent this perspective, moderate Christians will have little option but to continue taking refuge in today's version of "God of the Gaps" theology—that is, Intelligent Design.
Just how secure is the mystery of life's origin?
Is this argument in favor of a designer God well fortified from possible intrusions by explanatory science? That is, how great are the gaps in scientific understanding of (a) the formation of complex organic molecules on or within the early Earth, and (b) natural and unguided processes for linking up such molecules into precursors of living systems?
A stunning gain in understanding the formation of complex organic molecules was reported in December 2008 - and not just in the science media: Nature Geoscience. USA Today also printed an article titled "Life from Asteroid Collisions?". A team of Japanese scientists performed experiments that simulated (in miniature) the chemical conditions of Earth's early atmosphere and ocean during the time of the late "Heavy Bombardment" of asteroids in Earth's pre-life history. The heat and shock of such impacts would have destroyed any complex organic molecules in the vicinity of the impact, but the subsequent fallout of materials raining down through the atmosphere over a vast area would have generated far more complex molecules in the process—molecules that would persist in the chemical conditions of Earth's early ocean.
In 1997, as a freelance science writer, I was privileged to help a brilliant scientist write his final book. The education I gained in his presence opened my eyes to the prospects of an eventual solution to the mysteries of life's origins. The scientist was Thomas Gold (1920-2004), and the book is titled, The Deep Hot Biosphere. Back in 1992 Gold had published a scientific paper by this same title (now available online here), and it had entranced me from the outset. The origins of life ideas he presents in his final book include a speculation that he made in one of the interviews I taped of him, but which he hadn't yet published. Knowing that this book would be the only place that particular idea would appear, I made sure to work it in. The gist is this: So long as scientists go about their work as "surface chauvinists"—that is, assuming that the best conditions for life to originate would be at or near Earth's surface, they will fail to experimentally test chemical interactions under conditions of exceedingly high pressures. Gold hypothesized that catalytic organic molecules (organo-metallics) may actually originate easily and in abundance by natural processes operating at depth within Earth's upper mantle.
Time will tell. Meanwhile, may secularists and religionists alike find awe and a sense of the sacred in not just the unknown mysteries of the universe, but the known wonders—the workings of which simply could not have been perceived, much less understood, in the time of the biblical writers. Thank God for evolution—and thank God for the scientific endeavor that consistently works toward filling mysterious gaps with known wonders!
United Nations Values Caucus welcomes Michael Dowd
In the Spring of 2009, I had the honor and delight of presenting my program, Evolution and the Global Integrity Crisis, at the United Nations, in New York City. The event, sponsored by The Values Caucus at the United Nations, was attended by 40 people representing a wide diversity of religious, political, and philosophical worldviews. (See event flier and photo essay.) My program was very well received and afterwards several members of the Values Caucus began talking about the possibility of inviting me back to speak to a much larger audience at the United Nations. Naturally, I told them that I would be thrilled to do so. Here is what I offered:
PROGRAM DESCRIPTION: From crumbling economies to collapsing ecosystems, humanity is experiencing an unprecedented global integrity crisis. In a richly illustrated presentation, Michael Dowd proposes that the lack of an evolutionary worldview made the current crisis inevitable and that a deep-time view of human nature, values, and social systems provides a clear and inspiring way forward.
A few days after the event, Anne Creter, one of the organizers, sent me this touching note:
Dear Michael: On behalf of the Values Caucus at the United Nations, please accept our heartfelt appreciation for sharing your brilliant, rousing, thought-provoking and awe-inspiring April 2 presentation on “Evolution and the Global Integrity Crisis” with us. We were honored to be the first to introduce you at the UN, a place which needs to (and hopefully will) hear much more of your message. You really captivated us with your masterful insight and articulation of the complexities of the universe that puts it all in such a hopeful, uplifting perspective in these troubled times. We received an overabundance of praise of you and your material. Thank you and Connie for all the effort you put into making this such a grand UN event.
I am a Christian naturalist, not a supernaturalist. I do not deny the possibility of what some may call 'supernatural', but my focus and locus of inspiration is found in this cosmos and in this life. My understanding of the divine and experience of the gospel relate to this very real Universe, not merely to a mythic unnatural realm. I do not value what is unnatural over what is natural. Indeed, the core concepts of my faith tradition—sin, salvation, the kingdom of God, heaven and hell, Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life—are real for me in a this-world, undeniable way (and in a way that non-Christians and the non-religous can appreciate too), as I discuss in several chapters in my book, Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World.
The idea of an eternal life-after-death without pain or struggle, yet with awareness of the everlasting torment of others (those who did not believe as I did), I consider hell, not heaven.
I no longer merely believe in God. Thanks to the worldwide self-correcting scientific enterprise, I now know that facts are God's native tongue. Evidence reveals God's nature, God's ways, and God's guidance far more accurately than could have possibly been revealed to the biblical writers. This is in no way a dissing of scripture. It is, however, honoring God as a truly divine communicator and lifting up scientific discoveries as revelatory. Few things are more unflattering than imagining that God spoke more clearly to goat herders and fisherman in the distant past, through dreams and intuitions, than God does today through cumulative evidence discerned by the global community of scientists.
In an evolutionary context, theism is trivialized if it is thought to be solely, or even primarily, about otherworldly matters and unnatural entities.
Christian naturalism is an evo-theistic, or creatheistic, perspective that transcends and includes traditional notions of God that made sense when people assumed the earth was flat and the universe revolved around us. Like Evolutionary Christianity, it doesn't reject the possibility of a supernatural realm. But it does focus on, and primarily value, what is natural and unquestionably real. And the fact that such a science-based way of reframing and celebrating the core insights of religion has been endorsed by 5 Nobel laureates and other leading scientists, as well as by religious leaders across the spectrum, suggests to me that Christian Naturalism has a glorious future.
The Unnaturalist Fallacy
Imaginary gods vs. Reality/God: Part 1 and Part 2
God is NOT a Supernatural Terrorist
How and Why I'm a Pentecostal Evangelical
Traditional Religion's God Problem
Evolution as Meaningful, Inspiring Fact
The Great Blasphemy?
A Brand New Thing Under the Sun
As a civilization we face challenges to our usual ways of doing things, our social, economic, and political systems -- all our systems, and even our cultural stories and technologies. 50, 100, 250 years from now, there is no way that we will look anything like we do today. No way. We are going to be radically different, one way or another. Some of those possibilities are truly thrilling, such as creating a truly sustainable, just, wise, enjoyable civilization for the first time on earth. Other possibilities are downright terrifying. For example, by continuing on our current path we could push climate change so far, we could make the climate so hot, cold, and/or wildly variable that Earth becomes unlivable for most complex life forms, including ourselves.
Whatever else we believe or know or do or don't do to address the crises of our times, there are three overarching fundamental realities that will shape what happens for us humans in the next 50-250 years -- and ALL of them have to do with evolution. Here are the fundamental realities of our times, which are fundamental realities of life:
- Those living beings, communities, and species that do not fit do not survive.
- Those that change to fit the realities of their situation, do survive. And finally
- CONSCIOUS living entities thrive and sustain themselves into the deep future to the exact extent that they continue to craft their fit with elegance and wisdom.
In short, the only way we'll make it, folks, is to get real about evolution -- to get really real about our role in the evolutionary process. To get real about the role of evolution in our world, our lives, our destiny. The only way we'll make it is to wake up into the evolutionary perspective and start acting in ways that make evolutionary sense.
Because our ignoring evolution does not make us any less subject to evolution's laws and creative potentials than the still-evolving finches seen by Darwin in the Galápagos Islands 173 years ago, or the long-gone dinosaurs our children love to worship, or the rapidly changing viruses and bacteria medical science works so hard to stay ahead of. We're all subject to evolution. We humans are part of this evolving world, and we will survive and flourish to the extent we find new ways to fit well with that world and partner well with the emergent possibilities that are always gestating within it. The consciousness with which we find our fit, the wisdom and choicefulness with which we make our way into the future, will determine our survival and who we become as our journey unfolds.
And another thing: This consciousness, this wisdom, this choicefulness are no accident. They, too, emerged out of the creative dynamic interactivity of our world -- that miraculous process we now call evolution. Our ability to observe, to think, to know, and to envision and choose -- the very capacities we call consciousness and intelligence -- these are emergent properties of evolution. They came out of the intensely interactive past, the 13.7 billion year great star story and life story of evolution. Most important of all, they are in the process of evolving right now, right here in this room, in this community, in this country, on this planet. And they will continue to evolve through us all in whatever happens after we leave this room. As long as we exist, we will evolve.
Everything we notice, think, feel, do, create -- individually and together -- our consciousness, our knowledge, our cultures and social systems, our technologies, our stories -- all these unique realities of our humanness are now evolving at an unprecedented rate. And well they should. Because their evolution is the key to our survival. How we shape them, how they shape us, and how we use them to shape our world will determine if and how we flourish or vanish as communities and as a civilization.
Our 21st century predicament did not just happen to us. We have created the conditions in our world that now challenge us so thoroughly. We have done and are doing things out of our perceived self-interest that are degrading or destroying the life-support systems upon which we depend. We will only make it to the extent we wake up to this great evolutionary karmic fact: We reap what we sow. Our capacities have evolved from shaping hand tools, vehicles, communities and landscapes to shaping nanotubes, spaceships, global economies and climates. We have evolved to shape the evolution of our world. The question now isn't whether we will evolve -- we WILL and are doing that. The question is how consciously and wisely we will go about it. Because all our individual and collective evolution will only SERVE US to the extent it helps us engage with our world and each other in harmonious, mutual, co-creative ways.
If we fail to harmonize our individual and corporate self-interest with the well-being of the whole of life, we will soon be gone. We have become too powerful for it to be otherwise. This is not a fate to which we are doomed. It is a challenging opportunity to which the evolutionary process has brought us. And rising to that challenge will constitute a heroic evolutionary leap -- one we can only take consciously. The more consciously we leap, the more likely we'll succeed with the least unnecessary suffering and the most powerful learning and thrill.
That is why an evolutionary worldview is absolutely essential for humanity in this century. Because we are not separate from evolution. All the changes we make and live through are evolution happening now, right here, through us. To the extent we make those changes consciously -- aware of the big picture of who we are, the Great Story we are part of, and what we are doing in it -- we not only vastly increase our chances for success, but we become a piece of evolution, itself, waking up into consciousness of itself, taking responsibility for itself. And THAT is a brand new thing under the sun.
There is something important going on there, something that seems to have escaped the notice of most of humanity, but which has been going on for almost 14 billion years. We humans -- and all our non-human brothers and sisters -- are living manifestations of a Story that has been around, in one form or another, a long, long time. And now we get one chance to wake up and become the Story conscious of itself. Our challenge is to wake up fully enough, and in time, to become what evolution is obviously trying to make us: A conscious, wise version of vibrant Evolution.
It would be sad to waste this opportunity by clinging to business as usual just because it is familiar. That would mean evolution would have to try waking up through robots or raccoons with intelligence, opposable thumbs, and a lot of complex garbage left behind by a nearly wise species that almost made it. It is much more thrilling to awaken and tackle the job of conscious evolution with everything we've got and pull off one of the greatest miracles in the history of the universe.
To pull it off we need to focus on three interrelated evolutionary dynamics which, if we apply them wisely at all nested levels of our existence -- to our lives, to the cultures and systems we live in, and to our knowledge and technologies -- we will generate the world we want and transform ourselves into who we most want to be. The three key evolutionary insights are these:
1. Interacting diversity generates change.
2. Alignment with reality as it really is generates survival.
3. Harmonizing the self-interest of the parts with the well-being of the whole sustains vibrantly evolving complexity.
Underlying all of these is the reality that the dramatic bustle of evolution is actually wholeness transforming itself. I believe that as we apply these three key evolutionary dynamics to ourselves and our world, we will become increasingly aware of this. We will come to notice that every moment, thought, and response is exactly this. And then, as we gradually and thoroughly awaken to ourselves and our world as Wholeness transforming Itself, we will simply become evolution, seamlessly and joyously unfolding.
Science, Wisdom and the Future
Humanity's Quest for a Flourishing Earth
A five-day conference, “Science, Wisdom, and the Future,” will be held in San Luis Obispo, California, from June 24 – 28, 2009. Michael Dowd and I will both be participating, as will many of our colleagues and friends in this Epic of Evolution movement. Among the other presenters are: Duane Elgin, Nancy Abrams and Joel Primack, Brian Swimme, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Peter Corning, Russell Genet.
The conference organizers have crafted a blend of presentation, arts, and mixed time for conversations and concurrent events. We have been told that there is still room to register.
Conference home page
Details on speakers and agenda
The Clergy Letter Project
The Clergy Letter Project was started in 2004 by Dr. Michael Zimmerman (photo left) in response to creationist successes at the local (Wisconsin) school board. Working with local Christian clergy, a letter was drafted confirming the compatibility between Christian religion and evolution. The letter was signed by 200 Christian clergy and delivered to the local school board, contributing to their reversal of the creationist polices. After this initial success, the Clergy Letter Project went nationwide, quickly gathering thousands of signatures from Christian clergy. As the movement has grown, “Evolution Weekend” was introduced (the weekend closest to Darwin’s Birthday February 12th) as a focal time for congregations to address the need for understanding evolution. The website (Google it) has expanded to include over 200 sorted example sermons, free scientific consultants, news releases, and articles. The next article is a report on Evolution Weekend 2009 by Dr. Zimmerman.
In the weeks leading up to Darwin’s 200th birthday this past February, several of us discussed and implemented projects of various sizes to support the event. My contributions were sorting the sermons for the Clergy Letter Project (see their article in this issue), working with Connie Barlow to put together a Darwin Day service packet for UU ministers, and to supply five sample letters to the editor to use as input for writing to local newspapers about Darwin Day. With the 200th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of Species coming this fall, there soon will be more opportunities for all of us to help others find the joy and purpose that an evolutionary worldview brings.
Successful 4th Evolution Weekend!
The fourth annual Evolution Weekend was a resounding success by any measure used to evaluate it. Evolution Weekend is sponsored by The Clergy Letter Project and it is designed to provide an opportunity for individual congregations around the world to discuss the compatibility of religion and science while elevating the quality of the discussion on this important topic. Although each congregation acts independently and designs its own activities, each is connected thematically to every other participating congregation. In this way, congregations around the world are linked together and, collectively, all make a unified and powerful statement about the compatibility of religion and science.
This year 1,049 congregations representing each of the 50 United States as well as 15 separate countries participated. In this, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his seminal work, On the Origin of Species, participation soared by almost 30 percent over last year. Indeed, participation has increased every year by this impressive percentage!
Additionally, the media significantly increased its coverage of Evolution Weekend this year with reports, for example, both on NPR and on Fox News as well as in a host of other media outlets. You can scan some of the coverage on The Clergy Letter Project’s media page.
Many of the clergy members participating reported that attendance at their services was increased because of the topic. And the comments from congregants have been overwhelmingly positive. According to a report out of Maryland, “One woman came up to us afterwards and said, with tears in her eyes, that she’d been waiting 50 years to hear this message from her church.” A minister from Connecticut had a similar response, “This is the first year I have preached this, and in a church that sits enmeshed in Yale and has grad students and professors as members, the response was tremendous, with people saying they had waited many years to hear a pastor speak on this topic.” Another clergy member from Colorado commented about Evolution Weekend 2009 as follows, “The only complaint I received from the congregation was they wanted to make a bigger deal out of the event. So in 2010 we’ll see what we can add to make it more of an event above and beyond just the worship service.”
Yet another clergy member, this one from Ohio, noted that “The response to our sermon was very positive. As one of our members said to us today, ‘It's great to belong to a church where we are encouraged to think.’” And one from Oklahoma enthused, “My series on science and religion - and showing a movie on Darwin was a hit! People thanked me for speaking out. I guess I don't think of it as speaking ‘out’ rather it is what I passionately believe! Make sure you put us on the list for next year!” A similar response was received from New Zealand, “We enjoyed hosting a special evening at which we showed the excellent movie Paradise Lost and had an invited speaker. We drank some good wine together and enjoyed lively debate. Some young people who attended were amazed that a church would host such an evening.”
In one Texas congregation where science education at the state level is under attack by religious fundamentalists, Evolution Weekend sparked quite a flurry of activity. “Friday night, we had a guest speaker, a young assistant professor from the University of Texas who helped everyone understand the issues of science, Darwin, creationism and intelligent design. Sunday morning, we watched the video “Kansas v. Darwin” and then had an hour with our local member of the State Board of Education (who happens to be on the correct side of our state-wide debates). That, in turn, led to a campaign to get members of the congregation to write their friends in districts where other members of the SBOE are iffy and to ask doctors, scientists and others to push these people to keep their votes in favor of high-quality science and not to give in to pressure from the rightwing.”
The Clergy Letter Project has become fully enmeshed in the battle for high quality science education and broad respect for religion in Texas.
Along with The Center for Inquiry, The Clergy Letter Project has sponsored an informative web page presenting a wealth of information about the controversy. The site has received rave reviews from many sources. Not everyone is so positive, however! Don McLeroy, chair of the Texas State Board of Education and the person most responsible for undermining the science standards proposed by a group empanelled by the Board, has recently endorsed a self-published book entitled Sowing Atheism: The National Academy of Sciences’ Sinister Scheme to Teach Our Children They’re Descended from Reptiles by Robert Bowie Johnson. In his book, Johnson attacks members of the clergy who have signed The Christian Clergy Letter and makes the following outlandish statement, “In my judgment, only morons—more than 11,500 morons in this case—could sign a letter maintaining that the ‘timeless truths of the Bible’ are compatible with the billions of unpredictable aberrations of evo-atheism. What do these apostate morons celebrate at their Sunday services, the lies about humanity’s origins told by Moses, Jesus, and Paul?”
How utterly appalling that supposedly reputable people would take a serious issue and devolve it into name-calling that would be out of place on an elementary school playground. It is clear that the more than 12,000 clergy who have signed the Clergy Letters (there are now three such Letters: The Christian Clergy Letter; a Rabbi Letter; and a Unitarian Universalist Clergy Letter) are beginning to scare those whose world view demands that their narrow view of religion be considered the norm. These folks seem to be lashing out out of fear and insecurity. The members of The Clergy Letter Project obviously have far more respect for various religious traditions and proponents of those traditions than do those extremists who view their beliefs as the only appropriate beliefs.
If you would like to join this growing movement – a movement characterized by high quality dialogue, respect for science and respect for various religious traditions – and if you might be proud to be called a “moron” for your deeply held beliefs, please visit The Clergy Letter Project on the web or on Facebook. If you’re a clergy member who is either a US citizen or working within the United States and if you would like to add your name to one of The Clergy Letters, send a note to Michael Zimmerman and you’ll be added immediately. Similarly, if you and your congregation would like to participate in Evolution Weekend 2010, drop Michael Zimmerman a note and you’ll be added to that list.
Finally, The Clergy Letter Project has a list of more than 640 scientific consultants from 29 countries ready to help clergy members deal with scientific issues that might arise when discussions of the compatibility of religion and science. If you’re a scientist and if you would like to be added to that list, please contact Michael Zimmerman.
Michael Zimmerman is the founder and director of The Clergy Letter Project. Additionally, he is the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and professor of biology at Butler University in Indianapolis.
The Debate Over God's Existence
Few things are more antiquated than the debate over the existence of God. Prior to an evolutionary worldview, such debates made sense. In an evolutionary context, however—in light of what Ursula Goodenough and Terry Deacon call "The Sacred Emergence of Nature"—such arguments are outdated at best. (I discuss this at length in chapters 4-7 of my book, Thank God for Evolution, the section titled "Reality is Speaking".) Here's how I begin Chapter 7, titled "What Do We Mean by the Word 'God'"?
Do you believe in life? What an absurd question! It doesn’t matter whether we “believe in” life. Life is all around us, and in us. We’re part of it. Life is, period. What anyone says about life, however, is another story, and may invite belief or disbelief. If I say, “Life is wonderful,” or “Life is brutal,” or “Life is unimportant—it’s what happens after death that really matters,” you may or may not believe me, depending on your own experience and worldview. What we say about life—its nature, its purpose, its meaning—along with the metaphors we choose to describe it—is wide open for discussion and debate. But the reality of life is indisputable. This is exactly the way that God is understood by many who hold the perspective of the Great Story—that is, when human, Earth, and cosmic history are woven into a holy narrative. Our common creation story offers a refreshingly intimate, scientifically compelling, and theologically inspiring vision of God that can provide common ground for both skeptics and religious believers. For peoples alive today, any understanding of “God” that does not at least mean “Ultimate Reality” or “the Wholeness of Reality” (measurable and nonmeasurable) is, I suggest, a trivialized, inadequate notion of the divine.
The crux of the problem, as I see it, is the failure of millions of people, religious and non-religious alike, to distinguish meaningful metaphor from measurable reality. God as a subjectively meaningful interpretation simply cannot be argued against. God is always a legitimate interpretation. But God is NOT (and never has been) an actual, physical Being, as science and common sense define reality. (Those who would attempt to argue that God is a REAL Father or King, but just in an unnatural, otherworldly sense are left in the bizarre position of claiming that God, the Creator of the Universe, is less real than the Universe, as I discuss here.)
HERE IS A WAY OUT OF THIS IMPASSE: Whenever you hear the word ‘God', think ‘Reality'. "I have faith in God" can be translated "I trust Reality". "God is Lord" means "Reality rules". Throughout the world, God has never been less than a mythic personification of Reality as a Whole, Ultimate Reality, or what today some call "the Universe". If we fail to recognize this, we miss everything. ALL images and characterizations of God are meaningful interpretations of Reality As It Really Is. When we forget this, we will inevitably trivialize God, belittle science, and desecrate nature. As renowned systems thinker Gregory Bateson has said,
If you put God outside and set him vis-a-vis his creation, and if you have the idea that you are created in his image, you will logically and naturally see yourself as outside and against the things around you. And as you arrogate 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 or conspecifics 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.
God does not have multiple personality disorder, as a literal reading of the world's scriptures might imply. Cultures that tell stories of God as Mother have known reality as mother-like. Those who speak of God as Father, or as a steadfast rock, have known reality as father-like and as solid and unchanging as a boulder. And as we all know, reality at times can be like a trickster—a fox, or coyote—as some indigenous stories remind us.
There are an infinite number of metaphorical images and instructive (or misleading) interpretations of reality, but there is only one Reality, a Uni-verse. Religions are all about meaningful interpretations. Science is all about trying to understand the nature of measurable reality. The two really can work together, but only if we distinguish what in my book, Thank God for Evolution, I call, descriptive "day language" and interpretive "night language".
This is not theological rocket science. Theists are right when they insist that God is real and faith (trust) is transformative. Atheists are right when they insist God is imaginary and supernatural claims are fiction. If we do not understand how both of these can be true, we don't understand the evolved nature of the human brain and the metaphorical nature of human language. Arguing whether it was God or evolution that created everything is like debating whether it was Gaia or plate tectonics that created Mount Everest. Such silly and largely unnecessary confusion will remain the norm until we distinguish and value both metaphorical and descriptive language. In the meantime, I'm grateful to Richard Dawkins and the other "new atheists" for bringing this debate front and center. Perhaps in the coming decades we can finally move beyond the mistaken notion that science gives us a meaningless universe and religion is primarily concerned with unnatural (supernatural) entities.
- Christian Naturalism
- Imaginary gods vs. Reality/God: Part 1 and Part 2
- God is NOT a Supernatural Terrorist
- Creatheism: Evolutionary Emergence Ends the Theism-Atheism Debate
- Pentecostal Evangelical Naturalism?
- Traditional Religion's God Problem
- Evolution as Meaningful, Inspiring Fact
- The Unnaturalist Fallacy
- The Great Blasphemy?
- Endorsement from Nobel Laureates
- Science Leaders Praise TGFE
- Responses from Religious Leaders
- Best Evolution Resources
- Free PDF Download of the first 50 pages of TGFE (Table of Contents, Promises, Prologue, Intro, Chapter 1)
The Evolutionary Epic
As Manager of the Collins Foundation Press, I am pleased, along with my co-editors Russ Genet, Brian Swimme, Linda Palmer, and Linda Gibler, to announce the release of The Evolutionary Epic: Science’s Story and Humanity’s Response, a 406 page, hardbound book, with a foreword by David Christian, author of Maps of Time, and the acclaimed The Teaching Company course Big History.
As an update on the “epic of evolution” and its impact on human thought, the essays in The Evolutionary Epic begin with the story of humanity’s evolution from primeval stardust to planetary stardom. They take you from the struggles of our primitive ancestors on the savannahs of Africa to a theologian’s evolutionary epiphany on the snow-capped heights of a stratovolcano. Thirty-four chapters and forty-seven authors lead you to explore the mysteries of the quantum world and the vast reaches of the universe. They consider the evolutionary epic as education and Big History as enrichment of our imaginative and spiritual dimensions.
Order a copy...
God Is Not a Supernatural Terrorist
(The following is cross-posted on Rev. Matt Tittle's Houston Chronicle "Keep the Faith" blog, where it has generated a lively discussion.)
Tragically and unnecessarily, millions are turning their backs on organized religion altogether because of what I call 'the supernatural terrorist fallacy'—the idea that God is an actual, unnatural Supreme Being with a vengeful human-like personality, and that the Bible accurately reflects God's thoughts, words, and deeds. Ironically, such a literal reading of sacred scripture may be the single greatest factor fueling the epidemic of atheism sweeping America today.
The supernatural terrorist fallacy is the false belief that writings thousands of years old reveal God's unchanging character. As the new atheists are all too happy to point out, if this is true then God must be considered the ultimate terrorist. As Michael Earl painfully details in his "Bible Stories Your Parents Never Taught You" and "The Ultimate Terrorist" audio programs, in passage after passage in the Hebrew scriptures, in the early Christian scriptures, and in the Qur'an, God is said to employ “the calculated use of violence or the threat of violence to inculcate fear, intended to coerce or intimate...”, which is how the U.S. Department of Defense defines terrorism. We all know this is not true, of course. God is NOT a supernatural terrorist. But because many passages in scripture clearly portray God in just such an unflattering light, I predict that the rising tide of atheism will continue unabated so long as we religious folk trivialize God by interpreting our religious texts literally.
When we read about "supernatural" utterances or acts in the Bible, we should always remember to apply the evening news test.
THE EVENING NEWS TEST
Whenever any story, any culture, or any scriptural passage claims "God said this" or "God did that," what follows is necessarily what some person or group of people felt or thought or wished or wanted God to say or do, often as justification after the fact. These subjectively meaningful claims are never objective, measurable reality. In other words, had CNN or ABC News been there to record the moment of revelation, there would have been nothing out of the ordinary (nothing miraculous) to show on the evening news—nothing other than what was coming out of someone's mouth, or pen, or whatever folks wrote with back then. If we fail to understand this, we belittle God and will surely miss what God is revealing and doing today. And we mock God if we argue that He communicated more clearly to goat hearders and fisherman in the distant past, through dreams and intuitions, than He does today through measurable, cumulative evidence.
IS THIS REALLY THE GOSPEL—GOD'S 'GREAT NEWS' FOR ALL OF HUMANITY?
What underlies the supernatural terrorist fallacy is the failure to recognize that the so-called supernatural language in scripture is actually pre-natural (before we could have possibly had a natural, factual understanding) and unnatural (in the same way that what we do in our dreams, if interpreted literally, would be unnatural).
Think about it . . . An unnatural father who occasionally engages in unnatural acts (supernatural interventions) sent his unnatural son to the world in an unnatural way, offering an unnatural salvation from an unnatural curse brought about by an unnatural snake. Those who believe in all this unnatural activity get to enjoy an unnatural heaven and everyone else will suffer an unnatural hell, forever.
Is it any wonder that young people are leaving religion by the millions, if this is the "good news" they are offered? Is it any wonder that the new atheists continue to ride bestseller lists if religion is equated with such "supernaturalism"?
As religious people the world over know in their hearts, God is infinitely more REAL than the above absurd characterization. But without a sacred deep time worldview we'll lack the eyes to see and ears to hear how glorious the good news actually is—that is, in a this-world realistic way. And. of course, we'll continue to be publicly (and rightfully!) mocked by the new atheists.
NOTE: Chapters 5-7 in my book, Thank God for Evolution outline an way of thinking about the divine that is undeniably real. In Chapter 18 (the last chapter) I quote several new atheists at length who show the limitations of traditional ways of viewing scripture. I also show how God's word, God's will, and God's guidance are REALized by a meaningful evolutionary worldview.
The Unnaturalist Fallacy
Imaginary gods vs. Reality/God: Part 1 and Part 2
How and Why I'm a Pentecostal Evangelical
Traditional Religion's God Problem
Evolution as Meaningful, Inspiring Fact
The Great Blasphemy?
Best 2007-2008 Blog Posts and Interviews
Are God and Satan Real?
Devil vs Jesus by ~ongchewpeng on deviantART
by Michael Dowd
ABC Nightline recently staged two debates. In one, participants argued over the question "Does God Exist?" The other, debated the question "Does Satan Exist?" Rarely have a witnessed a more brilliant display of unnecessary silliness for want of an evolutionary worldview. (I'm referring to ABC News, not the participants. Deepak Chopra mentioned evolution a couple of times and Bishop Carlton Pearson was a beautiful model of generosity of spirit.) Without a deep-time understanding of our brains and the nature of human language, such questions are regarded not only as legitimate, but important. From a meaningful evolutionary perspective, however, questions such as "Does God Exist?" or "Does Satan Exist?" are revealed to be misleading at best, and demonically distracting at worst.
Do dreams exist? Are they real? Subjectively, of course they are! But are they real objectively? Well, it depends on what you mean by "real". Certainly dreams are natural and experiential—and are subjectively realistic. And dreams are, of course, correlated with very real brain activity as well as chemical, hormonal, and other physiological changes. But fortunately for me, when I dream about Angelina Jolie I don't need to worry about Achilles (aka, Brad Pitt) stalking me down in a jealous rage—or my wife divorcing me.
I expect to write more on this subject in the not-too-distant future. Until then, I invite interested readers to see the following previous posts of mine and a few passages from my book, Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World.
The Silly Debate Over God's Existence
Metaphorical gods vs. Reality/God: Part 1
Metaphorical gods vs. Reality/God: Part 2
God is NOT a Supernatural Terrorist
There is indeed a force devoted to enticing us into various pleasures that are (or once were) in our genetic interests but do not bring long-term happiness to us and may bring great suffering to others. . . . If it will help to actually use the word evil, there's no reason not to. —ROBERT WRIGHT, author of The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are—the New Science of Evolutionary Psychology
TGFE: PAGES 160-161
Gordon MacDonald, a fellow evangelical leader who also experienced a fall when a sexual impropriety became public, wrote this commentary for Christianity Today a few days into the Ted Haggard saga:
I am no stranger to failure and public humiliation. From those terrible moments of twenty years ago in my own life I have come to believe that there is a deeper person in many of us who is not unlike an assassin. This deeper person (like a contentious board member) can be the source of attitudes and behaviors we normally stand against in our conscious being. But it seeks to destroy us and masses energies that—unrestrained—tempt us to do the very things we "believe against." If you have been burned as deeply as I (and my loved ones) have, you never live a day without remembering that there is something within that, left unguarded, will go on the rampage.
Tellingly, MacDonald speaks of a "deeper person" within each of us, a kind of "assassin" that "left unguarded will go on a rampage." Evolutionary brain science confirms how right he is! Any of us whose lives have been damaged by slipping in our commitments and thus following our deep impulses knows what Gordon MacDonald is talking about. Evolutionary brain science helps us comprehend why: the deepest and most difficult to control urges are those whose territory resides within the fortress of our ancient reptilian brain. When those drives take over, "we" are no longer in control. Something else is. And it can feel like an assassin; it is destroying our lives against our will. This sense that something not-us nevertheless tempts and even controls us can be seen throughout history, though it is given different names. It has been called Satan or the Devil. Freud called it the Id (German: "It").
TGFE: PAGE 162
Understanding the unwanted drives within us as having served our ancestors for millions of years is far more empowering than imagining that we are the way we are because of inner demons, or because the world's first woman and man ate a forbidden apple a few thousand years ago. The path to freedom lies in appreciating one's instincts, while taking steps to channel these powerful energies in ways that will serve our higher purpose. Even so, "demonic possession" is a traditional night language way of speaking about someone who is compelled to act in harmful ways. "Demonic temptation," in this sense, is anything that would have us disregard the well-being of the larger holons of which we are part (our families, communities, world), or the smaller holons for which we are responsible (our bodies, minds, principles). It is my hope that-however evolutionary theologies manifest in the future-there will be room for traditional language (demonic possession), scientific language (reptilian brain), and metaphorical night language born in our own time (Lizard Legacy).
TGFE: PAGES 169-171
From a science-based, evolutionary perspective, there is no place for belief in a literal Satan—an otherworldly being with demonic intent—just as we no longer find helpful the notion that God is an unnatural entity divorced from, less than, and residing somewhere outside the Universe. Nevertheless, personalizing or relationalizing the forces of evil—especially those within us—can be helpful, whether or not we choose to use the words Satan or the Devil.
When I need to muster extra resolve against my inherited proclivities, especially regarding the lure to lie for the sake of status, sexual attraction, or the temptation to indulge in feel-good substances, it occasionally helps for me to see those tendencies as something other-as not me. That sense of otherness makes it easier for me to "witness" my unchosen nature—my instincts—and thereby gain the calm objectivity that distance affords, rather than being ruled impulsively by it. These inherited proclivities are not me, and yet they are within me. I shall never be entirely free of them.
"I Don't Know That Guy!"
Folksinger Greg Brown wrote a song titled "I Don't Know That Guy." It is a funny and poignant reminder of how challenging our Lizard Legacy can be. Here are the first two verses:
Me, I'm happy-go-lucky-
always ready to grin.
I ain't afraid of loving you-
ain't fascinated with sin.
So who's this fellow in my shoes-
making you cry?
I don't know that guy.
Who took my suitcase?
Who stole my guitar?
And where's my sense of humor?
What am I doin' in this bar?
This man who's been drinking,
and giving you the eye-
I don't know that guy.
Evangelical opinion leader Gordon MacDonald, as already mentioned, referred to these tendencies as a kind of assassin within. In saying that we feel "tempted by Satan," we mean exactly that. For many Christians today, the words "tempted by Satan" may still be helpful in dealing with the most troubling aspects of our unchosen nature. For me, "Satan" is still a useful term, but with this proviso:
From the standpoint of evolutionary faith, "Satan" points to nothing that can be believed or disbelieved. Rather, "Satan" as the great Tempter is something that every human experiences by virtue of having an evolved brain. Why? Because the human brain was not designed by an all-knowing, otherworldly engineer God. It was evolved by the living immanent, omnipresent God, and the world of today is a far cry from the world of our prehuman ancestors. For me to publicly use the word "Satan," however, would shut down the listening of those toward the liberal pole of Christianity—not to mention anyone outside the Christian or Islamic perspective. But what if we begin talking about our "reptilian brain" or, better yet, "Lizard Legacy"? What a lighthearted, playful way to get real about the most serious challenges that we, as individuals, face in right living; that is, abiding in integrity!
TGFE: PAGE 174
'Satan' can, indeed, bring temptation by way of our Lizard Legacy. Nevertheless, our brainstem and cerebellum are vital for life. Without our Lizard Legacy, we would starve and leave no off spring. Without our Lizard Legacy, every stumble would result in an injurious or fatal fall, and we would not have learned to walk in the first place. Without our Lizard Legacy, we would have to remember to breathe. Finally, there would have been no physical impetus for our Furry Li'l Mammal (our paleomammalian brain) to have evolved the bliss of romance. Yes, there is Original Blessing, in abundance. But, oh, the challenges!
TGFE: PAGE 182
'Satan' can and does use the most seductive of disguises-from sex, friendship, and righteousness, to power, profi t, and patriotism—in order to tempt us away from concern for the common good. Most dangerously, Satan can kidnap our Higher Porpoise (our prefrontal cortex), as when a zealously religious young man straps on a chestful of explosives and boards a bus, or when leaders of a nation-state react to a terrorist act at a scale that escalates the problem, all the while fanning the fears and invoking the patriotic assent of its citizens. Where is salvation to be found under these circumstances?
My experience of Evolutionary Christianity suggests that as our understanding of the Wholeness of Reality (God) expands and evolves, so too, naturally and inevitably, will our understanding of the meaning and signifi cance of salvation. From a holy evolutionary perspective, salvation is not something that can be believed in or not believed in. It simply is. What we call "salvation," like "sin," is an undeniable part of the human experience.
To know the joy of reconciling when I've been estranged; to experience the relief of confession when I've been burdened by guilt; to taste the freedom of forgiveness when I've been enslaved by my resentments; to feel passion and energy when I've been forlorn; to once again see clearly when I have been self deceived; to find comfort when I've been grieving; to dance again when I've been paralyzed by fear; to sing when I've been short on hope; to let go when I have been attached; to embrace truth when I've been in denial; to find guidance when I've been floundering—each of these is a precious face of salvation. No matter what our respective beliefs, we all have experienced salvation in these and other ways.
Endorsements from Nobel Laureates
Praise from Science Luminaries
Response from Religious Leaders (Across the Spectrum)
Best Evolution Resources
Big History: The Teaching Company
Recently, after I delivered a Sunday program at a church in Savannah, GA, one of the attendees asked, "When is this perspective going to be available as a college course?" I excitedly told him, "It already is. Get David Christian's Big History course from The Teaching Company website. There's no better articulation of the arrow of cosmic complexity in existence. It's the best of the best!"
For a decade and a half, The Teaching Company has made available to the public (via DVD, CD, and audiotape) college-level courses taught by some of the best professors in the world. Connie and I have watched or listened to quite a few of these courses over the years, and we have loved them all. But none more so than the program we are listening to now: Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity, taught by David Christian, author of Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History. The book is very good, and I recommend it. But the course is an absolute must!
One of my favorite quotes from Joel R. Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams' excellent book, The View From the Center of the Universe, is this:
IMHO, no one paints the big picture—the grand epic of cosmic, Earth, biological, and human history—more elegantly than David Christian.
Without a meaningful, believable story that explains the world we actually live in, people have no idea how to think about the big picture. And without a big picture, we are very small people.
Here's what The Teaching Company's top contributor (the highest ranked reviewer on their site) had to say:
Christian was a pioneer of big history, and is still a leader in the field, if not THE leader. TTC and its customers are therefore incredibly fortunate to have gotten Christian to develop this course. The scope of the course is sweeping and comprehensive. Christian literally presents a history of the universe, both natural and human, from the big bang right up to present, and even ends with potential scenarios for the future. In the process, the student is exposed not only to history on the grandest possible scale (which is the scale at which everyone should first be exposed to history), but he also imparts basic knowledge in areas such as cosmology, physics, chemistry, biology, human evolution and anthropology, technology, etc. As a lecturer, suffice it say that Christian is superb, and 48 lectures (each 30 minutes long) is perhaps a perfect length for this subject -- long enough to synthesize a vast amount of material, but well short of overload.It would be a gross understatement to say that I highly recommend this course.
I wholeheartedly agree with this reviewer. If you only do one thing for yourself in 2009, watch or listen to this course!
Since I know David Christian personally (he was a participant in the first Evolutionary Salon that I organized a few years ago, on Evolutionary Directionality), I sent him an email this morning to tell him how much Connie and I are enjoying listening to his artful teaching. Here's part of his response:
The Great Story/Big History: "To Educate the Human Potential"
Last night Connie and I finished listening to David Christian's masterful 48 lecture (30 minutes each) Teaching Company course: Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity. As I enthusiastically shared above, no one paints the big picture of cosmic, Earth, biological, and human history ("the Great Story") in all its scientific splendor more beautifully and powerfully than Professor Christian does in this course. (If you only do one thing for yourself educationally this year, I recommend this course above anything else!) Upon completion, I immediately thought of Maria Montessori's 1948 book, To Educate the Human Potential, which Thomas Berry turned me on to twenty years ago. In my opinion, Montessori's greatest gift to humanity (expressed wonderfully in this book) is this vital understanding:
When the Great Story—the epic of evolution, or universe story—is the foundation of education, students can excitedly learn who they are, where they came from, where things are headed, and how all scientific and educational disciplines fit into a coherent whole. More, their imaginations are sparked and they begin to wonder what role they themselves will play in the ongoing story—that is, what their own 'cosmic task' will be and thus how they too will leave their mark upon the world. What could possibly be more important? In Maria's own words...
Since it has been seen to be necessary to give so much to the child, let us give him a vision of the whole universe... If the idea of the universe be presented to the child in the right way, it will do more for him than just arouse his interest, for it will create in him admiration and wonder, a feeling loftier than any interest and more satisfying. The child's mind then will no longer wander, but becomes fixed and can work. The knowledge he then acquires is organized and systematic; his intelligence becomes whole and complete because of the vision of the whole that has been presented to him, and his interest spreads to all, for all are linked and have their place in the universe on which his mind is centred. The stars, earth, stones, life of all kinds form a whole in relation with each other, and so close is this relation that we cannot understand a stone without some understanding of the great sun! No matter what we touch, an atom, or a cell, we cannot explain it without knowledge of the wide universe. What better answer can be given to those seekers for knowledge? It becomes doubtful whether even the universe will suffice. How did it come into being, and how will it end? A greater curiosity arises, which can never be satiated; so will last through a lifetime. The laws governing the universe can be made interesting and wonderful to the child, more interesting even than things in themselves, and he begins to ask: What am I? What is the task of man in this wonderful universe? Do we merely live here for ourselves, or is there something more for us to do?
Beautiful Stonehenge photo by Adrian J Warren
This being the Year of Evolution (Darwin’s 200th birthday and the 150th of his On the Origin of Species), nonfiction readers have a wealth of new and classic books to choose from on the man and his message. And one of them is by my husband, Michael Dowd. Michael’s Thank God for Evolution (reissued in softcover by Plume in April 2009) was one of five books reviewed under the title “Darwin Roundup” in the 8 February 2009 issue of The Los Angeles Times (see link below).
The review actually begins with Michael’s book and then quickly moves on. The biographical underpinnings of the author and his itinerant ministry seems to have struck the reviewer as an opportunity to hook the reader with humor. M. G. Lord writes, “Today the couple has no permanent residence. Dowd thumps Origin of Species as ardently as the Bible. His movement's logo is a Christian fish smooching a Darwin amphibian (which, if you can bear its cuteness, can be purchased on a baseball cap at ThankGodForEvolution.com).
Among the four other books reviewed in the same article, the one that receives the most accolades is, Darwin's Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin's Views on Human Evolution, by well-respected Darwin scholars Adrian Desmond and James Moore. This book is poised to roundly defeat (at least in intellectual circles) a long-standing contention that establishment of evolution as fact and natural selection as the processs underlying it promotes rascism and other antagonisms between human groups. To the contrary! Indeed, I recall how taken I was more than two decades ago when I read Voyage of the Beagle and there encountered Darwin’s strong words against racism, slavery, and the brutal treatment of domestic animals — all of which he encountered in his explorations of South America.
Those of us within the sciences know, of course, that the measure of the man (or woman) who originates or supports a scientific theory should have no effect on how the scientific community as a whole judges the merits and usefulness of the theory. Nonetheless, because all battles against the evolutionary worldview now unfold entirely outside of science, Darwin’s Sacred Cause should make it decidedly old-fashioned to continue to blame Charles Darwin and his scientific success for cruel philosophies and practices advocated by political and intellectual leaders whose influence was on the wane before I was even born.
For Michael and me, ever on the road, audiobooks are increasingly the way we keep up on the sciences and cultural ideas that interest us. Thus far we have listened to three fine books of or by Darwin: The Reluctant Mr. Darwin (by David Quammen), Darwin’s Origin of Species: A Biography (by Janet Browne), and Darwin’s own The Voyage of the Beagle. Michael and I equally enjoyed the two new biographies — and we highly recommend both, especially to readers whose tastes incline toward biography and away from science. Though I listened twice to Darwin’s autobiographical sketch of his 5-year voyage, I did it on my own time, as Michael did not have the patience to persevere through long descriptive passages.
But the book that had us “wowing” to one another, and sometimes weeping with joy and pride that our species has been able to discover so much about the past from hidden and scattered evidence — evidence that requires quests that span multiple generations — is Sean B. Carroll’s latest book, Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origin of Species. A developmental and evolutionary biologist, Sean B. Carroll, in my view, has become the Stephen Jay Gould of this generation in his ability to write science books that scientists and nonscientists both commend.
I liked it so much that I posted my first online review at Audible.com, which I have linked below. But first, the Publishers Weekly review will give you a sense of its contents:
“In this thoroughly enjoyable book, Carroll (Endless Forms Most Beautiful), a molecular biologist at the University of Wisconsin, provides vignettes of some of the fascinating people who have made the most significant discoveries in evolutionary biology. He starts with some of the experiences and insights of great explorers like Alexander von Humboldt, Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace and Henry Walter Bates, then turns his attention to paleontologists who searched for the fossil evidence to support the new theory of evolution. Among them are Eugène Dubois's discovery of Java Man; Charles Walcott's discovery of the Burgess Shale and the evidence it provided for the Cambrian explosion; and Neil Shubin's recent discovery in arctic Canada of Tiktaalik, the intermediary between water- and land-dwelling vertebrates. Carroll closes with studies of human evolution, from Louis and Mary Leakey to the advances of Linus Pauling and Allan Wilson, which indicated that Neanderthals were cousins of Homo sapiens rather than direct ancestors. While there's little that's new here, Carroll does weave an arresting tapestry of evolutionary advancement.”
For those who want to stock up on the evidential basis for evolution in order to ward off denunciations by doubtful friends and relatives, the two best books of 2009 will likely be, Why Evolution is True by Jerry A. Coyne and The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins. I have just begun to read the former. Dawkins’ book is scheduled for release in September 2009. Because his 2004 science book, Ancestor’s Tale, has been so useful in my work (it is the basis for an interactive children’s curriculum that I wrote, “The River of Life”), I expect Dawkins’ book to be eloquent, accessible, brilliant — and utterly convincing.
» Connie’s review of REMARKABLE CREATURES on Audible.com
» Connie’s children’s curriculum, “RIVER OF LIFE”
» Book Review in Los Angeles Times, “DARWIN ROUND-UP”
Pilgrimages to “Sacred Sites of the Epic of Evolution”
Ever since we launched our itinerant ministry of “evolutionary evangelism,” Michael Dowd and I have taken on the spiritual practice of making pilgrimages to, what we like to call, “Sacred Sites of the Epic of Evolution.” During the first 3 months of 2009, we visited these three sites: NASA’s Apollo Flight Center (Houston, TX), Arkansas River “Pleistocene Dreamtime” (Tulsa, OK), and America’s First Dinosaur Discovery (Haddonfield, NJ). After each pilgrimage, I posted a richly illustrated, informative, and reflective photo-essay of our experience on TheGreatStory.org website.
What are Sacred Sites of the Epic of Evolution? They are particular places that are locally, regionally, nationally, or globally significant for commemorating an event in the Great Story of cosmic, geological, biological, and cultural evolution. We look forward to the day when such sites will be widely recognized as places where peoples of all religious faiths and worldviews can sense and experience our shared creation story.
Photo-essay of NASA’s Apollo Flight Center (Houston, TX)
Photo-essay of Arkansas River Pleistocene Dreamtime (Tusla, OK)
Photo-essay of America’s First Dinosaur Discovery (Haddonfield, NJ)
Home page of Sacred Sites of the Epic of Evolution
Here you can sample the 13 photo-essays of sacred sites thus far posted. As well, learn how you, too, can contribute a photo-essay of an evolutionary pilgrimage too.
The Living Universe
Duane Elgin, author of Awakening Earth, Voluntary Simplicity, and The Promise Ahead, has recently released a new book titled The Living Universe: Where are we? Who are we? Where are we going? As with his earlier works, Elgin demonstrates once again his celebrated role as a grand cosmic storyteller.
The Living Universe highlights clearly how our species and human civilization are currently facing a system-wide crisis that is calling us to enter into a new relationship with our selves, each other, and our "Mother Universe" that all things have been born from. Duane compellingly shares the story of how we are awakening to our place in the long march of History and to the evolutionary journey that we are still a part of today. He writes, "We are bio-cosmic beings who are waking up to find ourselves in a living universe and our evolutionary task is to grow into the bigness of who we are, both personally and collectively."
As we navigate through the storms our current global challenges, humanity is beginning to consciously come-of-age into a deep-rooted connection with our natural world and with the living and dynamic process of Creation. This "great awakening" is allowing us to join forces with the "flow of History" and to align ourselves in healthy ways with the self-organizing nature and increasing complexity of the Universe.
A shift of unimagined proportions is taking place, and as greater numbers of humanity awaken from a "dead view" of the Universe to a "living view" of the Universe, we are engaging in a conscious transition to a life-sustaining world of meaning, connection, and aliveness. As Elgin shares, this is the great story of our time that holds life-changing consequences, and it is from here that the main message of his new book sounds forth into the world: "We are beings of cosmic connection who are learning to live in a living universe."
Learn more by watching a short new video about the book with Duane with his grandchildren, and read an excerpt of the book that includes the Table of Contents, the Foreword by Deepak Chopra, and a selection from Chapter One.
» Book Excerpt
» Purchase the Book
Two New Stories of Awakening to Evolution
As Connie and I conclude our seventh year of traveling the USA teaching and preaching a sacred understanding of the Epic of Evolution, I round out our posted collection of “Stories of Awakening” with two more tales. Both pertain to one of my most popular program elements: evolutionary brain science, and both vividly demonstrate how an evolutionary understanding fosters the spiritual virtue of compassion.
"No question, I would have given myself to him"
A woman came up to me after my program and thanked me profusely for mentioning the effects on women's sex drive when in the presence of high-status men. She told me this story: "When my kids were really young, Bill Clinton's motorcade drove past my house, and I actually saw him in the car. I felt this sudden wave of desire wash over me. If he'd have stopped, no question I would have given myself to him — and I was happily married!"
"My compassion for men went up four-fold"
After my program on evolutionary brain science at a large Christian church, a woman told me this story: "There was a time when I had to take testosterone supplements, and it increased my compassion for men four-fold. Not only did my sex drive go up, but I felt more aggressive and a lot more willing to take risks. It was amazing!"
» Peruse online scores of such anecdotes collected by Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow during their travels
Evo Evangelists Barnstorm Texas
Texas is always a big presence in the ongoing challenges to the teaching of evolutionary science in public schools. Not surprisingly, then, television news stations, radio talk show hosts, and newspaper editors in Texas found our evolutionary evangelism worthy of coverage.
Michael Dowd and I were in Texas for most of the month of February, traveling from Houston to San Antonio to Austin and Waco, delivering Sunday morning sermons, illustrated slide talks, and children’s programs in 18 events hosted by a dozen churches and one yoga center. For example, on the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin (February 12), Michael delivered an evening talk provocatively titled, “Thank God for Evolution.” Sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Huntsville, the program attracted 105 area residents to the venue location: Sam Houston Memorial Museum (pictured above).
The reception was overwhelmingly supportive. Media reports, including VIDEO of an ABC News interview broadcast nationally, can be accessed at the “Texas Photo-Essay” link below.
A highlight for me of our time in Texas was the “Forum” discussion preceding Sunday service at Thoreau Unitarian Universalist Congregation, southwest of Houston. Because I was also scheduled to do a guest sermon there that morning (titled, “Evolution Now”), and because I had a cold, I was fearful that my voice would give out. So, I decided to center discussion not on my words but around an evolutionary parable I had written several years earlier and had posted on TheGreatStory.org website (see link below). The parable I chose was a 4-part dramatic script titled, “Startull: The Story of an Average Yellow Star.” Although it is suitable for young children, because of the science and the values expressed (especially a celebratory understanding of the death of elders) this particular parable is ideal for adults and youth. Volunteers energetically recited and acted out their scripts. A good time was had by all, and the subsequent discussion was heartful as well as intellectual.
Other highlights for me in Texas were the two religious education classes I guest-taught at Bay Area Unitarian Church in Houston near the end of February. While Michael was presenting the sermon at both morning services, I was in with the kids: first with 1st through 3rd graders; next with the teens. For the younger kids, I presented the first 40 minutes of my highly interactive “River of Life” program (linked below) — with lots of illustrations, guessing games, and song. It is a walk back through time, through our own ancestors and the special ancestors (which Richard Dawkins calls “concestors”) that we share with other “streams” of life. Kids universally love it!
For the teens, I always choose to offer “Your Brain’s Creation Story” (linked below) — which speaks to the challenges that youth especially feel in initiating and maintaining romantic relationships and in saying “no” to influences and substances that can do them harm. A week later, I had more time to walk through these ideas with 30 teens at the First Unitarian Church of Oklahoma City. As always, at the end of the program I offered free buttons and sticky labels with the brain chart emblem on them. The teens are always eager to take them — as an understanding of our evolved brain is intriguingly useful for just about everyone, and salvific for some.
We happened to be in central Oklahoma when Richard Dawkins gave a talk (to more than 3,000 students and visitors) at Oklahoma University. It was an amazing event. As Michael wrote in his blog,
“Connie and I made the long drive not just to hear Richard speak but to witness a rather unique phenomenon: a scientist/atheist whose presence on a college campus in the reddest of red states had a "rock star" feel to it—and had prompted a state legislator to introduce a resolution "expressing disapproval of the actions of the University of Oklahoma to indoctrinate students in the theory of evolution; opposing the invitation to Richard Dawkins to speak on campus."
» Michael’s blog, “RICHARD DAWKINS: Rock Star in Oklahoma”
» Connie’s PHOTO-ESSAY of the TEXAS events
» EVOLUTIONARY PARABLES
» “RIVER OF LIFE” children’s program
» “YOUR BRAIN’S CREATION STORY” teen program
Connie’s “Evolution Now” sermon:
"God" as a Personification of Undeniable Reality
Birth, life, death, the cycles and rhythms of Nature, the elemental forces of the Universe—these are undeniably real. Like it or not, we humans have always been in an inescapable relationship with a Reality that we could neither fully predict nor control. And given the nature of our brains, there's one thing that people in every culture and throughout history have instinctually done: we've used metaphors and analogies to understand and relate to that which is unavoidably, undeniably real and/or mysterious. We can't not do this. Consciously or unconsciously, we will always interpret via metaphors.
ALL images and concepts of God are more or less meaningful interpretations and personifications of Undeniable Reality, or Unavoidable Mystery. And it didn't take a genius to figure out that if you trust, or have faith, in what is ultimately inescapable, your life works better than if you judge or resist what is Real. This is not theological rocket science.
Whenever any story, any culture, or any scriptural passage claims "God said this..." or "God did that...," what follows is necessarily a meaningful interpretation of some individual or group's inner or outer experience; it is never a measurable fact. In other words, had CNN or ABC News been there to record the moment of divine revelation, there would have been nothing out of the ordinary (nothing miraculous) to report on the evening news—nothing other than what was coming out of someone's mouth, or pen, or whatever folks wrote with back then. If we fail to understand this, we belittle God and will surely miss what Reality is revealing today. And we mock God if we imagine that a truly divine communicator would have spoken to humanity as a whole more clearly through goat herders and fisherman in the distant past, via their dreams and intuitions, than through cumulative evidence discovered by the global community of scientists alive today. After all, if the worldwide, self-correcting scientific endeavor is anything, it is the pursuit of collective intelligence and a cultural system designed to hold people accountable for their factual statements—their truth claims.
As I discuss at length in Part II of TGFE ("Reality is Speaking"), facts are God's native tongue. In the same way that Reality is always speaking to us individually through our feelings, circumstances, and relationships (i.e., through our experience), empirical evidence is how Reality (God) speaks to us collectively. Few things are more important, it seems to me, than appreciating this and acting on it at all levels of society, the sooner the better.
Fortunately, this perspective seems to be resonating with lots of heavyweight science and religion leaders:
Endorsements from Nobel Prize-winning scientists
Praise from other Science Luminaries
Response from Religious Leaders Across the Spectrum (by Affiliation)
Are God and Satan Real?
The Silly Debate Over God's Existence
Evolution as Meaningful, Inspiring Fact
7 Deadly Sins of Old-Time Religion
"A mistake about Creation will necessarily result in a mistake about God." —Saint Thomas Aquinas
One of the most important truths revealed in recent centuries is this: everything—the entire Universe—is in an ongoing process of deep-time transformation. Galaxies and star systems evolve. Planets evolve. Life evolves. Human cultures evolve. Individuals and groups of all sizes evolve. And our personal and collective thinking about life's big questions (including our concepts/stories of Ultimacy, God, or Undeniable Reality) evolve, too. Reflecting on this is, I suspect, what led Pierre Teilhard de Chardin to write:
"Is evolution a theory, a system, or a hypothesis? It is much more: it is a general condition to which all theories, all hypotheses, and all systems must bow and satisfy henceforth if they are to be thinkable and true. Evolution is a light illuminating all facts, a curve that all lines must follow."
Over the next few weeks, I will elaborate on The 7 Deadly Sins of Old-Time Religion, taking them one at a time. I will show that there are 7 profoundly negative consequences of religious resistance to a measurable understanding of reality, and deep-time view of grace. Specifically, I will reveal how, from a religious naturalism point of view, a pre-evolutionary worldview frozen within scriptural literalism necessarily...
1. Trivializes God, guidance, and good news;
2. Balkanizes religion and bastardizes science;
3. Desacralizes nature;
4. Blasphemes death;
5. Fails our children in three tragic, unnecessary ways;
6. Denies individuals and families access to the most important saving wisdom for overcoming personal and relational challenges; and
7. Blinds us from seeing the true nature of the current global integrity crisis.
Everything must evolve in order to remain viable. Three billion years ago, life (bacteria and archaea) thrived in a context of 2% oxygen. Today, anything less than 15% oxygen would wipe out all mammals. In an ever-emerging, ever-developing Cosmos, conditions that were once healthy and lifegiving can later become dangerous or even deadly—which is, of course, why life must be so adaptive.
Traditional religions will either evolve like everything else or, paradoxically, they will destroy nearly everything they stand for, or perhaps just go extinct. I'm betting my life that they will evolve, and will become more lifegiving then ever—not just for their own members but for the entire Earth community. This is, indeed, why I wrote Thank God for Evolution, and why Connie and I have been living on the road for 7 years, sharing a sacred, meaningful view of cosmic, Earth, life, and human history with religious and secular audiences across America.
The boldest creedal assertions are in the future, not the past. I foresee a time in the not-too-distant future when churches and other religious organizations preach and teach the science-based epic of evolution as our common creation story, and when this story is seen as foundational for moral instruction and teaching values to the next generations. Widespread awareness of The 7 Deadly Sins of Old-Time Religion will, I pray, significantly further this process.
Happy Birthday Charles Darwin!
February 12th is Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday. While reflecting on the life and legacy of this great scientist and devoted husband and father, I’ve been struck by how an evolutionary understanding of the universe has, in fact, REALized my religious faith. I now enjoy all the benefits and blessings of religion from a place of knowledge rather than belief. When I look to the past, I am filled with awe and gratitude. When I look around me in the present, I feel love, compassion, and a desire to do everything I can to ensure a healthy world. And when I look to the future, including a future without me, I feel a deep and all-embracing trust.
Thanks to the role that Charles Darwin and countless other evolutionaries have played in enriching my faith and guiding my path, today I have no resentments, no secrets, and no unfinished business. More, I am able to ‘follow my bliss’ full-time with Connie Barlow, my perfect mission partner. If there’s a heaven on this side of death, surely this is it.
I hope you enjoy this second issue of The EVOLUTIONARY TIMES.
Listen to podcast...
The next time you’re passing by your local newsstand, make sure and pick up a copy of the March 2009 issue of Discover magazine that asks the question, “Are we still evolving?” and refers to the role of America’s Evolutionary Evangelist, Michael Dowd.
“Harnessed to a supernatural dimension, the belief in evolution could itself evolve into a kind of religion. Witness the case of one Michael Dowd, an itinerant minister who calls himself an “evolutionary evangelist” and preaches the “holy trajectory” of evolution. “I thank God for the entire 14-billion-year epic of cosmic, biological, and human emergence,” he notes on his Web site. “Ironically, evolution gives us a more intimate and personal relationship with God because God is no longer far off, unnatural, and impotent. And it gives us a way of thinking about religion that helps us understand how and why religions are different, and how we can cooperate together. Both of these are, to my mind, really Good News.”
In imbuing science with a sense of personal meaning, Dowd resembles Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit priest and paleontologist who envisioned humankind and the universe evolving in the direction of a divine, infinitely complex consciousness he called the Omega Point. But the two remain an extremely rare breed: devout believers in science whose teleological claims flout the rigors of scientific verification. Unlike Dowd and Teilhard de Chardin, Wilson espouses a strictly secular enthusiasm. However much they may disagree about the ends, though, these very different Darwinian thinkers agree on the means.
“Organisms evolve, and at the end of the day, we are organisms,” Wilson says. “You just can’t deny that.”
Read the full article on DiscoverMagazine.com...
Evolution as Meaningful, Inspiring Fact
Yesterday I was interviewed on radio by an 'intelligent design' creationist who kept insisting, "There is absolutely no evidence for evolution!" I was amazed that this person was either unaware or dismissive of our collective best understandings of cosmic, Earth, geological, biological, and human history. Before the interview ended, I determined to write this blog post that offers links to some of the best and most highly regarded web pages and books on the creation-evolution debate. The first set below (mostly wikipedia pages) should be considered essential reading. The second set identifies some of the top books in the field. Beneath that, I have also included my favorite resources that show:
1. How factual knowledge gained through the full range of evolutionary sciences can legitimately and easily be interpreted as religiously inspiring—and why, at this time in history, it is so urgent and fruitful to do so;
2. How the arrow of cosmic complexity upon which the vast majority of the world's scientists agree can be viewed in spiritually nourishing and deeply empowering ways (teleologically or non-teleologically); and
3. Why it is wildly erroneous to believe that ancient mythic texts, an unnatural judge, or otherworldly carrots and sticks are necessary (or even helpful) for superior moral development and healthy societies.
Above the Clouds
One of the most frequent questions I’m asked after my “astronaut” talks is some version of the following, “How was your view of God and religion changed by your flight?” My boring response is that my reaction was basically neutral. I returned with pretty much the same views, beliefs, and hang-ups as I had at launch. My particular hang-up was a continuing and profound disconnect between, on the one hand, what I’d been taught about God at home, in church, and at Bible school and, on the other, my convictions about values like fairness, justice, and love — as well as my life-long learning and experience in the scientific way of thinking.
Looking at Planet Earth and out into the Universe from space is truly an awesome experience. It is fantastic to be there as a knowledgeable observer, to appreciate the origin of this world and its place in the universe. Looking down on the clouds at night, lightning storms provide a never-to-be-forgotten show while in the day the storm clouds trace the great weather systems that make life as we live it possible. As a child I was led to believe that Heaven was somewhere, somehow up there above the clouds. The actual above-the-clouds experience is a whole lot better than myths of harps and streets of gold!
It is neat to understand that the same laws of nature that keep the moon in orbit about the earth and the earth about the sun are maintaining our space shuttle in its orbit of the earth. Thanks to our remarkable brains and a gradual intensification of learning, humankind has breathtaking knowledge of how things fit together, understandings unavailable to our richest and smartest forebears. The scientific method and the technology that it has engendered provide new, testable, and verifiable answers to questions of, for example, evolution and cosmology — questions of profound interest and importance, which in our ancestors’ day were strictly the province of priests and shamans.
I’m grateful that, thanks to Thank GOD for EVOLUTION and the concept that God is the universe, I am at last able to reconcile in a sensible way my life experience with God as expressed in the “night language” of friends and loved ones of many faiths around the world. It is really a wonderful thing to be able to use the word “God” without an internal grimace. If you, also, experience a disconnect between your spiritual life and your experiential life, I encourage you to try thinking about God and the universe in this positive and helpful way.
- by Michael Zimmerman, The Clergy Letter Project
The fourth annual Evolution Weekend will be celebrated February 13-15, 2009. As of today, more than 1,000 congregations from many denominations and representing 15 countries are scheduled to participate.
Organized under the auspices of The Clergy Letter Project, an organization of more than 13,000 clergy and scientists from all corners of the globe, Evolution Weekend is an opportunity to accomplish a number of important goals:
- The yearly event has significantly raised the quality of the discourse about the relationship between religion and science. Rather than simply hearing such absurd statements as “If you believe in evolution, you’re going to hell,” participants have been able to discuss the positive ways that religion and science may play complementary roles in society;
- Like The Clergy Letter itself, Evolution Weekend strikingly makes the case that clergy from a host of religions and denominations, and from all around the world, have absolutely no trouble reconciling their deeply held religious beliefs with the tenets of modern science in general and evolution in particular; and
- Evolution Weekend conclusively demonstrates that the public battle taking place in statehouses and in front of local school boards, in the media and from some pulpits, is not one between religion and science but, rather is a battle between different religious ideologies. In this respect, Evolution Weekend participants are combating those who would have us believe that their particular brand of fundamentalism is the norm. Instead, Evolution Weekend participants are celebrating the fact that our understanding of religion and faith is both broader and deeper than what some would have us believe. They are also showing that we have room for people of many different faith traditions.
Evolution Weekend has been designed as a non-centralized celebration. Each participating congregation constructs an event that makes the most sense within that congregation’s local context. Over the years, some congregations have heard sermons delivered on the broad topic of the compatibility of religion and science (and you can read more than 100 of them on The Clergy Letter Project’s web pages while others have had a lunch discussion. Still other congregations have invited speakers to address them while others have watched pertinent DVDs. The important point is that in every case, the quality of the dialogue about the relationship between religion and science has been elevated.
Some have attacked the event by claiming that the intent has been to raise Darwin to the status of a saint and to pray to him. Nothing could be further from the truth. The event is more about Darwin’s ideas than about Darwin the individual. It is about demonstrating that the choice some demand be made between religion and science is a false dichotomy.
Others have said that the title of the event, Evolution Weekend, is too confrontational. They have indicated that their congregations would participate if the name were changed to something like Religion and Science Weekend. This is probably an accurate assessment. However, there are very important reasons why the name remains Evolution Weekend, even while the message is quite broad. Simply put, the most public battle between religion and science regularly occurs over the teaching of evolution. Because some believe that evolution is incompatible with their religious beliefs, they have regularly attempted to remove evolution from schools or to demand that some alternative, non-scientific view be taught alongside evolution. It is time for all of us to reclaim evolution, to promote the fact that evolution is absolutely central to all of biology and to many of the other sciences as well. To rename Evolution Weekend something else would be to miss this critical opportunity to help promote scientific literacy.
Despite these criticisms, support for Evolution Weekend continues to grow dramatically. Recently, for example, The Clergy Letter Project and Evolution Weekend have been formally endorsed by the United Methodist Church and by the Southeast Florida Diocese of the Episcopal Church.
If your congregation would like to participate in Evolution Weekend 2009, simply send an e-mail note with the name and location of your congregation to Michael Zimmerman. You’ll immediately be added to the growing list of participants EvolutionWeekend.org.
If you’re a member of the Christian clergy in the United States, you might want to add your signature to The Clergy Letter. Or if you’re an American rabbi, you might want to add your signature to The Rabbi Letter. Or, if you’re a scientist willing to work with clergy to answer scientific questions, you might want to add your name and expertise to The Clergy Letter Project’s list of scientific consultants. To do any of these things, just send a note to Michael Zimmerman.
Please help make Evolution Weekend 2009 the biggest and best yet.
Listen to report on NPR.org...
Michael Zimmerman is the founder and director of The Clergy Letter Project. Additionally, he is the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and professor of biology at Butler University in Indianapolis.
Evolutionary Youth: the Great Story and the Next Generation
Generation Waking Up: Coming of Age at the Crossroads of Civilizationby Joshua Gorman
"At the leading edge of our generation is a revolutionary new consciousness arising from the convergence of our deepest spiritual wisdom and cutting-edge scientific discoveries. We are waking up to a breathtaking new cosmological vision revealing that Life is an unfolding evolutionary process of increasing complexity, creativity, and consciousness. Wherein the past humans imagined that the world was born in one miraculous instance of creation, today we understand that Creation is a living and dynamic process that travels through the trail of Time, one that thus far has a 13 billion year history stretching from the Big Bang to our emerging 21st century Global Mind.
As we begin to fully comprehend this incredible new Story of Life and our human place within it, we are confronting the inescapable fact that we live in a participatory Universe, one that demands our active and conscious participation in bringing forth a positive future for all. Never before has a generation had such a clear and compelling vision of where we have come from and where we are going. As large numbers of our generation grasp onto this Big Picture of Life and are transformed by the greatest Story of all Time, we are being filled with a newfound passion for action and world-engagement."
Read this entire article in Kosmos journal...
Great Story Stuff for Kids!created & compiled by Connie Barlow
Learning the science-based STORY OF 14 BILLION YEARS of cosmic, planetary, life, and human evolution in fun and meaningful ways can be transformative for kids. Curriculum materials are available on a number of Great Story themes at TheGreatStory.org. All of the materials are intended for use by parents and teachers who wish to integrate a science-based understanding of the world and the cosmos with whatever spiritual or philosophical worldview the child is being raised within. These worldviews include liberal forms of Christianity and other religions of the Bible, humanism, paganism, religious naturalism, Buddhism, and more.
If you would like to contribute to this section or suggest a resource to be spotlighted, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Projects for "The Year of Evolution"
In mid January, Connie Barlow, Jon Cleland-Host, Michael Dowd, Joshua Gorman, and Tom Atlee all contributed brief summaries of ongoing and future projects among us that merit attention during this "Year of Evolution" (the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and the 150th of his On the Origin of Species). Next we brainstormed on each project during a two-hour conference call. Connie then compiled the short summaries into a pdf and posted them online.
A total of 26 projects are listed in that document. Several are now complete and others are underway. Most time-sensitive were two proposed by Jon-Cleland Host: "Darwin Day Worship Materials" and "Darwin Day Letters to
Editors." Both were instigated by Jon, with additions and editing by Connie. Both were completed on time, and an email was sent to a thousand Unitarian Universalist clergy and lay leaders to alert them to these resources in advance of Darwin Day, February 12.
If you are curious as to what we are up to, check out this link. Only two or three of the 26 projects will require funding to pursue. The rest we are just doing for the love of it. Perhaps you, too, will be inspired to find a way to contribute your talents toward some service or project in this "Year of Evolution."
We are excited to announce the initial launch of ThankGODforEVOLUTION.net, an online community platform and companion website to ThankGODforEVOLUTION.com. This site will serve as a meeting ground where people of all religious traditions, scientific backgrounds, philosophies, and spiritual paths can come together to help create a movement and culture that celebrates meaningful interpretations of a science-based, evolutionary worldview. You will have the opportunity to post your ideas, questions, projects, and stories to the community discussion board, and to become part of a dynamic community of inspired individuals and organizations committed to a sacred and meaningful future. From Baptists to Buddhists to Big Bang theorists and beyond, all are encouraged to engage in fresh conversations about matters of ultimate concern and to learn how to apply this work to their own lives.
Join the community now at ThankGODforEVOLUTION.net!
Traditional Religion's God Problem
A holy view of evolution solves traditional religion's God problem.
What is 'traditional religion's God problem'? Simply this: If taken together and interpreted literally, the world's religious scriptures portray God in ways that we all know in our hearts cannot possibly be true. For example, all of us (even atheists!) know that God cannot possibly be schizophrenic, nor a tribal-cosmic terrorist. Yet that is precisely the view that the world's sacred texts collectively offer. That's traditional religion's God problem.
Please know that I am not exaggerating or overstating the case, and I'm certainly not dissing religion! It is an easily verifiable fact that if you look at the world's religious literature as a whole, God supposedly says and does lots of contradictory, mutually exclusive things. Some traditions say "God is like this, He said this, and He did that." Others say, "NO, God is like this, He (or She) said this, and did that." If all these tales are true, God is either schizophrenic or suffers from multiple personality disorder. Saying "our stories are true and all others are myth" doesn't make the problem go away for humanity as a whole. And it gets worse before it gets better...
If you’ve heard about Thank GOD for EVOLUTION, but haven’t gotten a copy yet, we would like to invite you to download a free chapter and see what the buzz is about.
Thank GOD for EVOLUTION brings together believers and non-believers on both sides of the generations-old debate by showing how evolution is not meaningless blind chance; rather, it is the sacred story that embraces and includes all religions. As a Christian minister, Dowd addresses the concerns that many Christians have about evolution and offers insights that ring true to people of any spiritual tradition, or none at all.
For Dowd, “studying evolution is like following cosmic breadcrumbs home.” Drawing on the full range of cosmological, geological, biological, and human-related sciences, Thank GOD for EVOLUTION presents the history of the universe as an epic drama in which the generations alive today have a crucial role to play. It offers a shift in public perception on a scale not experienced since the Copernican Revolution or the Protestant and Catholic Reformations. By acknowledging the global, collaborative scientific endeavor as public revelation, we can newly appreciate the timeless insights within the private revelations of the world’s enduring religious traditions.
Moreover, Dowd shows how the discoveries of science—notably, evolutionary brain science and evolutionary psychology—offer astonishing gifts for understanding and overcoming the challenges in our personal lives and relationships. This, he declares is “the gospel according to evolution.”
Sign Up. Speak Out.
Public awareness about evolutionary spirituality is growing, and people everywhere are engaging in a new conversation about Creation. Rev. Dowd is regularly invited to speak to media across America and around the world about why he thanks God for evolution, and why he and Connie have committed their lives to teaching and preaching the ‘Gospel of Evolution.’
We would like to invite you to join the conversation and become one our movement’s media evolutionaries. Most major media outlets offer online opportunities to discuss personal views about the news. Reports regarding evolution are real conversation starters in many communities across the country, especially when they include the unorthodox perspective of an ordained, former fundamentalist who now evangelizes evolution as theology—and not just theory.
Here’s the opportunity.
Sign up as a media evolutionary, and help give voice to the millions in the middle who embrace both science and spirituality. We’ll email you whenever we find online opportunities for you to join—or even start—conversations in response to reports about Michael, his ministry, and our evolutionary movement. We won’t write anything additional for you to read. We’ll just send direct links to news response blogs where you can contribute as inspired.
Communication is key if we want to build lasting bridges between embattled fundamentalists on both sides of the debate over Darwin vs. Design. It’s been an either/or dialogue for decades, and now it’s time to hear from more both/and voices. According to annual polls, there are millions of us who see no conflict between faith and facts, religion and reason. Let’s speak up and share how seeing the world through evolutionary eyes has deepened our faith and renewed our religious experience.
Without an evolutionary understanding of who we are, where we came from, and where are going, we are doomed to remain divided and destined to fail as species. The gospel—or good news—of evolution is that the choice to evolve is now ours. We are no longer victims of a meaningless, mechanistic Universe or an angry, judgmental God. By living in evolutionary integrity, we are joining hands with the Universal forces that forged us from a barren, rock into life as we know it. Now, that’s good news to share!
Thanks for considering our invitation. We hope you’ll join the conversation!
How and Why I'm a Pentecostal Evangelical
Journalists and newscasters sometimes describe me as an 'evangelical minister' or ‘Pentecostal preacher', even though I speak far more often in moderate and liberal churches (and in secular settings) than I do in evangelical and Pentecostal venues. Not surprisingly, both religious liberals and conservatives genuinely ask, "In what sense do you consider yourself a Pentecostal evangelical?"
For thirty years I've proudly called myself a Pentecostal, though my political and theological views are by no means right-wing, and for the past two decades I've tended to say "evolutionary Pentecostal", for clarification. My experience in Pentecostal and evangelical contexts has been positive—indeed, salvific—and continues to nourish my life and work. I was raised Roman Catholic but struggled with sex, drug, and alcohol-related issues in my teens, during the mid 1970s. Soon after my 20th birthday, I had a born again experience and went on to graduate from an Assemblies of God college and a Baptist seminary. I pastored three churches in the 1980s and 90s and have been an itinerant evolutionary evangelist for the past seven years. Speaking in tongues (see below for my naturalized interpretation) has been a vital part of my spiritual practice for decades.
The primary reason I unabashedly call myself an evolutionary Pentecostal, however, is this: The core tenets of the evangelical-Pentecostal tradition accurately reflect the nature of the Universe and the human condition so long as they are REALized—that is, made real. And, yes, as I shall explain below, it is easy for an evolutionary evangelical to translate our basic statements of faith in natural, science-based (demythologized), and profoundly life-giving ways . . .
1. The faithfulness of God and the authority of God's word
2. The necessity of Christ and the centrality of the cross
3. The need for conversion
4. The call to live the gospel in word and deed
Responses to TGFE from Religious Leaders
A meta-religious movement is underway...
Religious luminaries from across the spectrum have resounding praised the evolutionary theology presented in Thank GOD for EVOLUTION. We’ve heard from Roman Catholics, Protestants, Quakers, Evangelicals, Unitarian Universalists, New Thought Leaders, Jews, Budhhists, Religious Naturalists, and more.
The Great Story/Big History: "To Educate the Human Potential"
Last night Connie and I finished listening to David Christian's masterful 48 lecture (30 minutes each) Teaching Company course: Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity. As I enthusiastically shared in my last post: BIG HISTORY: THE TEACHING COMPANY, no one paints the big picture of cosmic, Earth, biological, and human history ("the Great Story") in all its scientific splendor more beautifully and powerfully than Professor Christian does in this course. (If you only do one thing for yourself educationally this year, I recommend this course above anything else!) Upon completion, I immediately thought of Maria Montessori's 1948 book, To Educate the Human Potential, which Thomas Berry turned me on to twenty years ago. In my opinion, Montessori's greatest gift to humanity (expressed wonderfully in this book) is this vital understanding:
When the Great Story—the epic of evolution, or universe story—is the foundation of education, students can excitedly learn who they are, where they came from, where things are headed, and how all scientific and educational disciplines fit into a coherent whole. More, their imaginations are sparked and they begin to wonder what role they themselves will play in the ongoing story—that is, what their own 'cosmic task' will be and thus how they too will leave their mark upon the world. What could possibly be more important? In Maria's own words...
Since it has been seen to be necessary to give so much to the child, let us give him a vision of the whole universe....
Even Rocks Evolve!
All too often I hear evolution being dismissed by scriptural literalists as "Darwin's theory," or "just a theory." For them, understanding of the natural processes of evolution seems to be stuck at the scientific evidence available during the famous Scopes Trial in the 1920s. That is, for them the evolutionary paradigm pertains only to biology - specifically, how the vast diversity of species emerged out of less complex, less diverse forms.
But today, the term 'evolution' applies to far, far more. Consider this historical sequence:
Responses to Our Public Presentations
Since the beginning of our full-time itinerant evo-evangelistic work, in early 2002, Connie and I have addressed more than a thousand religious and non-religious audiences across North America. We are both humbled and thrilled at how the Evolution Theology (Evo-Theo) message we have been called to communicate resonates with the vast majority of those to whom we've presented, from Catholics and Quakers, to Baptists and Buddhists, to UUs and gurus. We are also grateful for the generous, enthusiastic comments of Nobel laureates and other science and religion luminaries who read Thank God for Evolution (TGFE) and offered their feedback and endorsements. I wrote about responses from science leaders a few weeks ago and about responses from religous leaders yesterday. What follows is a sampling of responses to our sermons, seminars, and other public presentations, from teachers in various secular and religious contexts, as well as from religious leaders and congregants across the theological spectrum, grouped by religous orientation.
Public School Battles Continue
"AUSTIN - In a major defeat for social conservatives, a sharply divided State Board of Education voted Thursday to abandon a longtime state requirement that high school science teachers cover what some critics consider to be "weaknesses" in the theory of evolution." Dallas Morning News, 22 January 2009
Louisiana (here, too) and Mississippi also have important decisions pending that will influence the teaching of science in public schools.
No matter how these particulars unfold, my prediction is this:
"Until the majority of churches in America preach evolution enthusiastically from the pulpit and teach evolution in inspiring ways in religious education classes, we will never see an end to the science and religion war in America."
For those parents and pastors who truly do believe that exposure to the evolutionary sciences will lead children to question their faith, and especially if a loss of that particular faith (say, scriptural literalism) consigns the child to suffering for eternity in Hell, then of course the war shall continue, even as particular battles are won and lost.
Connie's Corner: WHAT’S NEW on The Great Story website
- by Connie Barlow
Leading up to Darwin’s 200th birthday, I have posted a number of new pages on TheGreatStory.org.
- Photo-essay of a pilgrimage I made in 1994 to Charles Darwin’s home in England
- Photo-essay of a pilgrimage Michael Dowd and I made this month to NASA’s Apollo Flight Center in Houston. The actual room where the Apollo missions were directed is now a historical monument. We regard it as a “Sacred Site of the Epic of Evolution”.
- because the Apollo missions provided the world with the first photographs of the whole Earth from space — that is, the first opportunity for Earth itself (via the human psyche) to admire Earth’s great beauty.
- Summary list of the 26 projects and proposals that they (and collaborating colleagues) are engaged in that would promote a sacred and practical understanding of evolution in many different venues.
- Suggestions for and links to Worship Materials for Evolution Sunday, contributed by Unitarian Universalist lay leader (and scientist) Jon Cleland-host.
- Essay by Connie Barlow that summarizes her work and philosophy in in bringing the Epic of Evolution into religious education for children.
- A short proposal written by Connie Barlow to stimulate the funding and creation of a website to foster musician and videographer collaborations to produce a new form of music video to assist contemplation and sing-along at worship services of liberal churches, on the themes of evolution and ecology, from an interfaith perspective.
- PDF of the landmark essay, “The Sacred Emergence of Nature,” by Ursula Goodenough and Terry Deacon. There is no better way to enter the new paradigm of emergent evolution — both the science of it and the religious implications.
- Online access for purchasing a new CD of songs for praise worship and evolutionary revivals. The CD is by The Cosmic All Stars, with original songs by Keith Mesecher.
Read more at TheGreatStory.org...
Introducing The EVOLUTIONARY TIMES
We are Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow, full-time itinerant evolutionary evangelists. Since April 2002 we have traveled North America non-stop, sharing in religiously inspiring ways the 14 billion year history of the Universe given by mainstream science. Some of you know us from one of our presentations or workshops. Others we’ve met thanks to my new book Thank GOD for EVOLUTION. To All, it's been an honor and a privilege to meet and become part of so many of your lives over the past six and a half years on the road.
This publication will now be our main means of communicating with the millions in the middle who, like us, find inspiration, comfort, and encouragement in our common creation myth—The Great Story of cosmos, Earth, life, and humanity told in meaningful and empowering ways. Here you will find key links to informative blog posts, news coverage, our itinerary, mention of what’s new on our websites, and suggestions for how you can join us and play an important part in furthering this movement.
OUR TWO-FOLD VISION: (1) By 2050, we see the majority of religious and non-religious people worldwide joyfully embracing an evolutionary, ecological worldview. (2) We also imagine, by mid-century, that humanity, in symbiotic partnership with our technologies and social structures, will have largely transitioned to a mutually enhancing relationship with the larger body of life of which we are part.
4 Reasons Why Nothing Matters More Than What We Think About Evolution
1. A shared sacred story that honors both objective truth and subjective meaning: 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. Both are conveyed through the same story.
Waking Up to the Evolutionary Message of Our Times
We are clearly in crisis mode. How many times have you thought, we're on new ground? Things are not working the way they used to. We need to radically change the way we do things. We need to consciously evolve ourselves and our social systems.
The current crisis in our financial and governance systems is clearly revealing how these systems we've created now tie us all into invisible but extremely dense webs of interdependence. We are now fully bound to each other, by virtue of our own creations. This interdependence is both the problem and the solution to the crises we face. Furthermore, within the unfolding crises are the very energies we need to make the change. We just need to wake up to that fact.
Here are four vital truths to help us do that -- truths that are vividly obvious from a sacred, participatory evolutionary perspective.
Science Leaders Praise TGFE
Given that my book, Thank GOD for EVOLUTION, emerged out of six years of Connie and I teaching and preaching Evolution Theology in hundreds of diverse religous settings across North America, I was quite sure that it would be celebrated by all but the most conservative of religous folk. But what has truly amazed me is the way TGFE has been embraced by leaders in the scientific community—including scientists and academics who would hardly consider themselves religious in any traditional sense.
Teach Both Sides of What Controversy?
Michael Zimmerman of the Clergy Letter Project alerted me yesterday to a newspaper article discussing John McCain's VP pick, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s, stance on the evolution/creation issue. The piece is from the Anchorage Daily News and ran during the last gubernatorial race.
I have previously written blog posts on the subject of intelligent design (ID) and young-earth creationism (YEC). The reason that well over 95% of the scientists of the world reject these approaches is because neither has offered a viable scientific theory to replace the evolutionary one. "Teach both sides of the controversy" is a rallying cry often heard in ID circles. But among scientists. there simply is no controversy. And this is a demonstrable fact (carefully look at and read the image above left. T-shirts with other humorous images on the subject of "Teach the Controversy" can be found HERE).
The following is excerpted from Chapter 4 of Thank GOD for EVOLUTION...
WHAT'S NEW on The Great Story website?
New postings include: a new audio of a sermon by Michael Dowd; a video of a sermon by Connie Barlow; an audio and PDF of "Evolution Now: A Manifesto" by Connie Barlow; and link to a 5-minute video collage of "testimonials" by 5 people excited by Michael's and Connie's presentations.