Friday, July 25, 2014

The Language of God by Francis S. Collins

I love the intersection of Faith and Science. So for that reason, I picked the highly acclaimed, The Language of God by Francis S. Collins. Collins is best known for his work on the Human Genome Project, and I expected to have to wade through a scientific jargon-filled tome.

I was wrong.

He writes in a delightfully accessible-to-the-layman manner. He shows in simple to understand terms how one can quite peaceably live in the world of both science and faith. He uses his book to defend both.

He opens by stating, “In my view, there is no conflict in being a rigorous scientist and person who believes in God who takes a personal interest in each one of us. Science’s domain is to explore nature. God’s domain is in the spiritual world, a real not possible to explore with the tools and language o science. It must be examined with the heart, the mind, and the soul – and the mind must find a way to embrace both realms.” To embrace both realms “enriches and enlightens” the human experience.

Collins was not raised in a religious home, and by college considered himself an agnostic, which gradually shifted to atheism. As he tried out different career direction, he worked in the medical field with profoundly religious people. The peace they experienced despite tragedy began to affect him. He was stunned to discover, that despite being a rational scientist, who would follow evidence where ever it led, he had never considered the argument for religion.

In order to prove to his scientific mind that religion held no purchase for him, he began to read intellectual Christian theologians. He became stuck when he encountered the Moral Law, which seem to be embedded in each of us. Science had no explanation for this. In fact, he quickly realized that science would never be able to answer the vexing questions about life he began to have.

Rationality pushed back on his burgeoning belief in God with the argument that religion was merely “wish fulfillment.” We just make up God in order to fulfill some need for meaning. But C.S. Lewis made clear that the God he served was not the kind of God one would make up. This God demands something of us. He is not coddling and indulgent. Annie Dillard had a line that spoke to searching heart when she said, “What have we been doing all these centuries but trying to call God back to the mountain, or, failing that, raise a peep out of anything that isn’t us? What is the difference between a cathedral and a physics lab? Are they not both saying; Hello?”

He had to confront the harm done in the name of religion, the suffering allowed by a loving God, and the irrationality of believing in miracles. Fortunately C.S. Lewis and other great thinkers were there to satisfy his questions. 

He then turns his attention to the origins of the universe. This seems to be where science and religion experience the most conflict. But for him, a belief in God actually solved, what were for him, “deeply troubling questions about what came before the Big Bang, and why the universe seems to be so exquisitely tuned for us to be there.” His scientific brain marveled at the logical answers the belief in God offered him. Science offered the “how,” God offered the “why.” In fact, his belief in God combined with his understanding of science led, rather than away from a God that can be explained away, to a renewed sense of awe in a majestic Creator.

He specifically dives into his research in the Human Genome Project. This project thrilled as he explored “the DNA language by which God spoke life into being.” His scientific and religious endeavors has led him to a place where he embraces Theistic Evolution. He summarizes it thusly, “If God is outside of nature then He is outside of space and time. In that context, God could, in the moment of creation of the universe, also know every detail of the future. That could include the formation of the stars, planets, and galaxies, all of the chemistry, physics, geology and biology that led to the formation of life on earth, and evolution of humans, right to the moment of your reading this book – and beyond. In that context, evolution could appear to us to be driven by chance, but from God’s perspective the outcome would be entirely specified.”

Collins’ journey from atheist to believer in not only God, but Jesus Christ as His Son, is compelling and thoughtfully laid out for us. He pulls no punches, but goes wherever the evidence takes him.

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