Welcome! This site exists to help shed light on the topics of science and Catholic faith. Please introduce yourself here!

If you would like to subscribe to this blog, click here. To receive new posts by e-mail, enter your e-mail address below. Your e-mail is always kept private.

Delivered by FeedBurner

Interview with Michael Dowd, part 1: Demoting the sacred

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

The recent post about this blog's position on evolution has attracted a lot of attention. Perhaps I should have added that I believe evolution is "only a theory" in the sense that it is nothing more than an idea of secular science and is not at all a sacred thing. I say this to make a contrast with the position of Michael Dowd, a self-described "evangelist of the gospel of evolution."

Dowd, previously a Catholic and then a fundamentalist Protestant, is now the inventor of "evolutionary theology" and the author of Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World. He was recently interviewed in two parts on the secular humanist radio program "Point of Inquiry," where he explained his naturalized religion.

There is a lot to Dowd's message, parts of which will be addressed in future posts. But his ideas all boil down to one central thesis: God is not a supernatural, personal being, but a personification of reality. In other words, God is the "proper name" we give to all of nature. His term "Religion 2.0" seems to refer to a hybridization between pantheism and the philosophy of Spinoza, both descendants of Eastern philosophy.

Though he calls it a "personification," Dowd's thesis about religious thought actually makes God into a non-person. In other words, God's personhood is merely symbolic.

Dowd explicitly rejects all private revelation (what Catholics would call "the deposit of faith") in favor of the revelation uncovered by science. He says that scientific facts are "God's native language." This idea echoes the beliefs of the Deists, who accepted "natural theology" but rejected the revealed theology that is central to the claims of Christianity. Interestingly, in the radio interviews at least, he makes no attempt to refute the idea that revelation contains truth, but merely denounces it.

The Catholic Church holds that while doctrine can develop in the same way a flower unfolds, its core content never changes. The original deposit of faith was completed with the writing of the books now included in the Bible. The Church is so careful on this point that she uses a dead language as the official tongue of faith, lest the natural evolution of living languages distort the unchanging contents of revelation.

Nature likewise never changes (except, the Christian would maintain, through the rare interventions of God known as miracles), but our understanding and description of nature — in other words, science — changes frequently and often dramatically. For example, consider how the uncertainties of quantum mechanics (a model which even has a postulate called the Uncertainty Principle) compare with the clockwork universe of Newton. Even the theory of evolution, the scientific nucleus of Dowd's philosophy, may in principle be one day replaced or drastically modified as the central unifying theory of biology.

And much of Dowd's message draws not on the overall theory of evolution, which is a very strong model with overwhelming scientific consensus, but on the much more speculative field known as evolutionary psychology. To derive our behavioral "integrity," as Dowd recommends, from such a controversial discipline is to build our morals on a foundation of sand.

I subscribe instead to the Cartesian (and fully Catholic-compatible) view that science, as the study of nature, is subordinate to supernatural truth. By removing the supernatural from reality and calling the remnants "God," Dowd has made himself into an evangelist of nonsense. A commenter on the Point of Inquiry website put it well with these insightful remarks: "If the universe is god is the metaphor, then doesn’t god lose all meaning? ... An impersonal and unknowable god seems like no god at all, at least from a teleological point of view."

Michael Dowd Series:

Related Posts