01 February 2009

"Thank God for Evolution" - An Example of Memetic Evolution

I'm still waiting for Susan to lend me her copy of Thank God for Evolution by Rev. Michael Dowd.

While I'm waiting, I downloaded the sample free chapter from the authors' web site today. The excert covers the first 44 pages of the book (plus some promotional "book blurb" info for the book).

The first thing that struck me here was that Rev. Dowd's message is an example of memetic evolution in action -- an attempt to reframe both religious views about evolutionary biology and evolutionary biology itself in such a way that religion and evolutionary biology are not viewed as incompatible.

Here's a short description of memetics from Wikipedia:
Memetics is an approach to evolutionary models of cultural information transfer based on the concept of the meme. Starting from a metaphor used in the writings of Richard Dawkins, it has since turned into a new area of study, one that looks at the self-replicating units of culture. It has been proposed that just as memes are analogous to genes, memetics is analogous to genetics.
In the preface of the book, Rev. Dowd is reaching out to the following groups of readers:
To those of you who have rejected evolution . . .
I promise that the secular version of evolution you have rejected is not the version of evolution presented in these pages. Indeed, if the understanding of our collective past and the vision of our common destiny outlined here do not inspire you to be more faithful in all your relationships, to find new ways to bless others and the world, and to awaken eagerly each morning to a life filled with meaning and purpose, then please continue to reject evolution!

To those who accept evolution begrudgingly (like death and taxes) . . .
I promise that this book will provide you with an experience of science, and evolution specifically, that will fire your imagination, touch your heart, and lead you to a place of deep gratitude, awe, and reverence. You will also find here effective ways to talk about evolution to any friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors who are biblical literalists or young earth creationists.

To devoutly committed Christians . . .
Whether you are Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical, Anabaptist, or New Thought, and whether you consider yourself conservative, moderate, or liberal, my promise to you is that the sacred evolutionary perspective offered here will enrich your faith and inspire you in ways that believers in the past could only dream of.

To Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and other non-Christians . . .
I promise that it will be easy to apply most of what you find here to your own life and faith. I also promise that if you explore the meaning of your tradition’s insights within an evolutionary context, as I attempt to do with Christian doctrine, you will provide an invaluable service to your religion and our world.

To agnostics, humanists, atheists, and freethinkers . . .
I promise that you will find nothing here that you cannot wholeheartedly embrace as being grounded in a rationally sound, mainstream scientific understanding of the Universe. I also promise that the vision of “evolutionary spirituality” presented here will benefit you and your loved ones without your needing to believe in anything otherworldly.

To those who embrace an eclectic spirituality . . .
I promise that this perspective will enrich your appreciation of the traditions and practices that nourish you most deeply, while helping you find new excitement in each. It will also help you communicate and relate to others who hold very different religious or philosophical worldviews.
Making evolutionary biology more appealing to the traditionally religious is an idea full of good intentions. On the surface, greater acceptance of evolutionary biology will help evolutionary biology gain greater acceptance in North America if the popular perception is that evolution is compatible with religion.

However, a change in popular perception may also benefit those religions that are perceived as being pro-evolution and pro-science. By retooling religion, we may be seeing an adaptive change in religion.

None of this reframing of evolutionary biology and religion has anything to do with the truthfulness or usefulness of evolutionary biology theory. The truthfulness and utility of a theory are determined through scientific methods.

However, the reframing of religion so it's perceived as being compatible with science may be useful for the long-term survival of religion.

1 comment:

Robin Edgar said...

Well judging from what one sees in the U.S.A. and elsewhere in the world today, to say nothing of the not so distant past. . . the reframing of science so it's perceived as being compatible with religion may be useful for the long-term survival of science. ;-)

Sorry Steve but I just couldn't resist that counter*point and you know that, quite regrettably, it holds more than a small grain of truth to it.

Rev. Michael Dowd's 'Thank God For Evolution' sounds interesting. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.