Thank God for Michael Dowd: How the Capitulation of Religion to Science Will Transform Your Life and Our World

Michael Dowd is a self-described “evolutionary evangelist” who lies at the forefront of a growing movement known as “Christian Naturalism” or “Christian Darwinism”–a movement largely influenced by his popular book Thank God for Evolution.  There are a variety of things I could say about Mr. Dowd’s book, but, for now, I would like to focus your attention on its misleading subtitle.  It reads as follows:  How the Marriage of Science and Religion will Transform Your Life and Our World.

In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with this subtitle–in fact, I think it’s rather catchy.  My only real objection is that it’s printed on the cover of Mr. Dowd’s book.  Perhaps you disagree, but I subscribe to the school of thought which advocates that a book’s subtitle actually convey information about its content.  I carefully read and reread this manuscript in an attempt to find a “marriage” between science and religion but was left empty handed.  What I found, instead, was analogous to the fatal actions that a female praying mantis takes against her male partner after copulating–science biting religions head off!  A more accurate subtitle would read:  How the Capitulation of Religion to Science will Transform Your Life and Our World.   

The last time I checked, a good marriage was characterized by mutual love and respect.  Having been married for over five years I can attest to this.  The reason my wife and I are still madly in love is because we both value each other–we don’t demean each other, we take each other seriously, and, although we both play different roles in the marriage, we consider each other equal in value, dignity, and worth.  If either one of us were to change our attitude, to look down upon the other or treat the other pejoratively, our marriage would quickly deteriorate.

Rather than a marriage between religion and science, Mr. Dowd advocates something more akin to the relationship that a king has with his concubine.  In such a relationship, the concubines sole purpose is to pleasure the king and keep him company–she is not an equal partner sharing the same dignity, value, and worth as the king.  She is merely an object to be used and, if necessary, discarded.  In Mr. Dowd’s vision, science is the king and religion is his concubine.

Consider this statement in the introduction:  “Here is my vision:  Within the first half of this century, virtually all of us–believers and nonbelievers alike–will come to appreciate that evolution is a gift to religion and that meaning-making is a gift to science” (13).  Notice that he equivocates religion with “meaning-making.”  This is far different from saying that religion gives  meaning.  To say that religion gives meaning is to say that religion makes objective claims about that nature of reality.  To equate religion with “meaning-making” is to suggest that religious claims are merely subjective interpretations of reality.

I wonder how Mr. Dowd, and others, would react if I equated science with “fact-making?  I suspect they would not be happy with this label.  For, it would suggest that science does not discover facts about reality but, rather, makes them up as it goes along.  And they would be right to be upset–such a view is utterly preposterous.  Consequentially, he should not be surprised to discover that people serious about their religious faith are not appreciative when their views are reduced to that of “meaning-making.”

Mr. Dowd’s statements reveal the true object of his faith–naturalistic science.   For Mr. Dowd, science is the pillar and bulwark of the truth (in fact our only reliable source of truth); science alone provides us with objective answers about reality which are true for all men.  Religion, on the other hand, is merely a conglomeration of colorful fairytales which act as a sort of “opiate” for the masses:

What I and others mean by the Great Story is humanity’s common creation story.  It is the 14-billion-year science-based tale of cosmic genesis–from the formation of galaxies and the origin of life, to the development of consciousness and culture, and onward to the emergence of ever-widening circles of care and concern.  Science unquestionably provides the foundation.  For this tale to be experienced as holy, however, it must don the accouterments of myth.  Barebones science must be embellished with metaphor and enriched by poetry, painting, song, and ceremony (25, emphasis mine).

After reading this quote, taken from the first chapter, there is little to nothing worth discussing about the rest of the book.  If you have read Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett, you will find nothing new here.  He simply presents atheistic scientific naturalism donned with, “the accouterments of myth,” and “embellished with metaphor.”  Mr. Dowd truly seems to believe that simply attaching adjectives like “holy” or “sacred” to evolution actually make it holy and sacred.  In the same way that McDonald’s believes calling their burgers “deluxe” actually makes them deluxe.

I’m truly baffled that Mr. Dowd believes his portrayal of religion, as a placebo, will resonate with millions of devout religious people who actually take their faith seriously.  Does he honestly believe he has bridged the gap between science and faith by encouraging everyone to accept Richard Dawkins’ naturalistic worldview embellished with religious lingo?  This is tantamount to serving dog droppings smothered in whip-cream with the expectation that your cultured guests will find it palatable.   I see no reason why religious people should capitulate to the nefarious doctrines of scientism and naturalism–especially considering the devastating critiques of such views recently offered by such noted philosophers are Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, John Lennox, William Lane Craig, Angus Menuge, William Dembski, and J. P. Moreland (to name but a few).

In the final analysis, I believe I was wrong to suggest that Mr. Dowd’s subtitle failed to relate any information about the book.  If his thesis turns out to be correct, if naturalism is true and science is our only reliable source of knowledge, then he is right–our lives truly will be transformed.  We must now come to terms with the unavoidable conclusion that we have no free will; that we are locked in an endless mechanical cycle of material causes and effects completely out of our control.  We must learn to cope with the startling truth that there is no objective meaning or purpose for our existence; and affirm that there is no such thing as good or evil.  If this is the universe we live in, perhaps Mr. Dowd is right–pretending life has meaning may be our best option.

[Dowd, Michael. Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion will Transform Your Life and Our World.  New York: Viking, 2007.  USA $24.95]