We are assured by Richard Dawkins and others of that ilk that no self-respecting intelligent person, let alone scientist, could possibly believe in a God. Their case is undermined by the fact that scientists like Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project not only believe in God but can make the intellectual case for their position, and with substantially more force than the case against God made in "The God Delusion".
In this book, Collins charts his own journey to faith, guided largely by C.S.Lewis (Mere Christianity), and then outlines his own intellectual position on the issue of origins. He identifies three main positions - atheism, creationism and intelligent design - correctly showing that ID is a distinct intellectual movement - but also identifies what he considers weaknesses in all three. His own position is "Theistic Evolution", or "BioLogos" to use the term he coins. He argues that the evidence suggests that the history of the universe does not show evidence of external agency (unlike the position of creationism or ID), but that there are aspects of the universe which are not adequately explained by purely naturalistic perspectives (unlike the position of atheism). He also argues that the culture wars, which have little to do with science and much to do with philosophical presuppositions, are damaging both science and faith, by firmly scribing an unnecessary line between the two. In this regard, Collins adopts the reciprocal position of Stephen Gould (Rocks of Ages), who advocates a complete separation into non-overlapping magisteria.
At the very least, this is a thoughtful contribution to the debate from an intelligent and informed voice. He hopes to soften both anti-science Christians and anti-faith scientists to one another, and as somebody with an understanding of both camps, has a chance of achieving this.
on 20 June 2007
As a Christian trained as a physicist, I have always been drawn to books that tread the road between science and faith. "The Language of God. A scientist presents evidence for belief" by Francis Collins is one of the best. Dr Francis S Collins is head of the Human Genome Project and one of the leading scientists working on DNA, the code of life. He is also a man whose unshakable faith in God is clear throughout this book.
If you have been drawn to "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins then I would urge you to read Collins too. How can two men with such similar backgrounds and similar scientific interests come to completely opposing conclusions? Indeed Collins admits that in his student days and for sometime afterwards he was an atheist himself.
"The Language of God" is part autobiography, part layman guide to DNA and evolution theory; cosmology and quantum physics (though I can think of better introductions than Collins) making an interesting comment on Einstein's famous phrase "God does not play dice". It is also a profound analysis that fully endorses evolution theory as explored by science whilst fully upholding faith in the Christian God of the Bible, including the miraculous. These two worldviews are not incompatible in Collins' mind, and he builds some important bridges: "It is time to call a truce in the escalating war between science and spirit. The war was never really necessary."
Along Collins' road he tackles the main alternative positions including the atheism of Dawkins that he challenges on several grounds, concluding that atheists must find some other basis for taking their position, evolution won't do. The agnosticism of Thomas Huxley "Darwin's Bulldog" is also explored, and Collins' feeling that it is a comfortable default option for many becomes clear.
Collins also tackles the main positions adopted by people of faith today. Young Earth Creationism, probably more popular in the USA than in Britain, is explored and receives particular criticism for its ultraliteral interpretation of the Genesis creation stories, for its rejection of God-given reason and scientific study. The God of the Bible could not be deceiving us by planting false trails in the stars and galaxies, in the animal world or fossil record, or in our own genetic code. Collins is particularly concerned that Young Earth Creationism is driving a wedge between science and faith, sending a message to young people that science is dangerous, or driving then away from a God who would ask them to reject science.
Interestingly the recent Intelligent Design movement is not supported by Collins. He rejects ID on two main grounds. Firstly it presents itself as a scientific theory yet it fails at the first hurdle because it does not offer a framework in which new experiments can be conducted that will refine or challenge the theory. Secondly, one of the main principles of ID, the concept of irreducible complexity is increasingly exposed by scientific advances, and is looking more like another God-of-the-gaps approach, so ably demolished by Dawkins among others.
Collins' own position of science and faith in harmony becomes clear throughout the book. He presents six premises that lead him to an entirely plausible, intellectually satisfying, and logically consistent synthesis. "God, who is not limited in space or time, created the universe and established natural laws that govern it. Seeking to populate this otherwise sterile universe with living creatures, God chose the elegant mechanism of evolution to create microbes, plants, and animals of all sorts. Most remarkably, God intentionally chose the same mechanism to give rise to special creatures who would have intelligence, a knowledge of right and wrong, free will, and a desire to seek fellowship with him."
Collins also believes that there is a Moral Law (his capitals) written into the heart of every one of us. Clearly this is not science and it is a strand that runs throughout the book from his own conversion from atheism to faith, his experiences as a medic working in Nigeria, his views on science and faith, and finally to his appendix on Bioethics: the moral practice of science and medicine.
on 19 March 2008
This book is both interesting and frustrating. It is interesting because as a prominent theistic scientist (who took over leadership of the Human Genome Project from a prominent atheistic scientist) Collins has a unique vantage point from which to contribute to the science / faith debate. It's frustrating because, in this reviewer's opinion, Collins should have gone so much further in engaging more fully in the wider Christianity / Atheism debate.
The book's subtitle "A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief" is misleading. The pro-belief argument rests almost exclusively on the Moral Law whilst evidenced-based reasoning fills relatiely few of the book's pages. The reliance on philosophical argument is odd as one might expect the main evidence for belief from such a prominent scientist to be scientific in nature (Collins does touch on the Cosmological and Fine Tuning Arguments but these do not come across as central evidential pillars). However this reflects the thrust of the book - science doesn't land blows for theism or atheism - science should not even be in the fight.
Consequently I would say that this book does not add a great deal to the Christian / Atheist debate. Collins surveys that battle and seeks to pull back science from the front line. However I struggle to see how that is consistent with the worldview of someone who believes that the entire natural world has been created by the agency of a personal God, in order to declare his glory (which Collins must believe, as a self-confessed Evangelical). Science, as the study of God's creation, should be a powerful apologetic tool for those who have eyes to see, and thus I would recommend the book of another evangelical Scientist - John Lennox's "God's Undertaker" - above this book.
I found "The Language of God" frustrating for a number of additional reasons - at times Collins appears self aggrandising; in other places he seems to be humbly pleading with the wider scientific community to continue to take him seriously despite being a Christian (he spends much time criticising and distancing himself from his Christian brothers and sisters who hold different scientific views); his personal testimony chapter makes much of CS Lewis but little of the Lord Jesus.
However the book has many interesting and positive aspects. The general scientific education one receives from its pages is fascinating, irrespective of any religious connotations. The bioethics appendix is well thought through and raises helpful questions. It's fascinating to see how someone who appears to adopt everything the scientific establishment tells him from both within and outside his specialist field remains able to maintain an evangelical Christian worldview. It does a good job in presenting one way in which science and Christian theism can peacefully co-habit - Theistic Evolution or BioLogos in the author's own terminology (whether this is the correct answer is for the reader to decide). It is a well timed rebuke to believers who are tempted to use science as an excuse to give up on following Jesus Christ. It's reassuring to those who find the pseudo-scientific ramblings of Dawkins et al compelling. Ultimately this is a well intentioned book seeking to call an end to hostilities between science and the Christian faith and probably worth a read.
on 4 October 2006
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Dr. Collins has, in his own way, managed to reconcile what many consider to be conflicting disciplines: science and theology. Granted, some may argue that the theology isn't the most sophisticated ever produced, but this book is not intended for theologians. Nor is it intended for people with an extensive background in science. It is a fantastic and well-written introduction to the emerging field of scientific theology. the most critical point about the book, which some reviewers don't seem to understand, is that Collins never attempts to argue against mainstream scientific understanding. he states categorically that nothing in genetics makes sense without evolution, that the world is certainly over 6,000 years old, that the big bang happened, etc. in no way is the book a disservice to science. quite to the contrary, it is a great service to science, for it teaches deep believers of all faiths to accept the evidence of science without feeling like it poses a challenge to their religious views or values.
drawing from other heavy-hitters in this area - john polkinghorne, ken miller, alistair mcgrath, and C. S. Lewis, and St. Augustine - he pieces together a coherent argument in favor of God's existence, and in favor of the scientific evidence for evolution. From Bayesian probability theory, to an exploration of quantum physics, to the "free will" and "free process" defense, he briefly touches on most of the current arguments used in contemporary apologetics. Granted, he sometimes relies perhaps a little too much on C. S. Lewis, but this shouldn't undermine the validity of the arguments Lewis or Collins uses - to the contrary, It's nice to see someone give Lewis due credit, when many others have forgotten about his tremendous contribution to christian apologetics.
some might also argue that the scientific exploration and philosophical arguments he makes in favor of God's existence leads one only to believe in a "deistic" God, rather than the benevolent God of theism. I sympathize with this point. But what those who make such arguments don't realize is that if God is personal, then the only way to understand Him as a personal being is to approach him as if he had a personal component, or consider his presence in personal experience, not as a math problem to be solved. Think of it this way: I can know a fair amount about who you are by studying your medical charts, or a computer program you may have designed, but I can't really KNOW you on a personal level until I approach you as a person. The same may be true for God.
This is why we shouldn't scoff at Collins when he begins to recount his stories about how he accepted God as a personal presence. Of course these aren't going to meet the standards of rigorous scientific investigation. It's not supposed to. But if you accept the arguments in favor of a sort of deism, Creator God, well presented here, then you should certainly be more open minded about considering the personal aspect of God as well.
Francis Collins argues that the realms of spirituality and knowledge of God are different from that of science. He sees no conflict between the coexistence in the same person of belief in a transcendent God who takes a personal interest in human beings and the exploration of nature with the tools and language of science.
Originally an agnostic/atheist, as is often the case with children in households where religion and church are thought of as one and are primarily social institutions, Collins didn't want to know about the great questions of life until he read C S Lewis's Mere Christianity. From this he concluded that altruism was an expression of the Moral Law, a reasoning he found far more convincing than the ant-centred altruism of E O Wilson and the sociobiologists.
There many problems for any religious believer, of which the problem of evil is perhaps the most apparent. None of these are scientific problems. They are philosophical ones and Collins sets out in detail the war of the worldviews of science and religion. On the one hand there are those who see God as wish fulfilment, excusing incredible evil and asking for the suspension of reason, a view held by many scientists. However, Collins points out, "Science is not the only way of knowing. The spiritual worldview provides another way of finding truth." The latter cannot be understood by the application of the scientific method and it is unscientific to attempt to do so.
Those who see this book as an attempt to reconcile religion and modern science are mistaken. It is an attempt to show that a scientist can believe in God without ceasing to use the scientific approach to material knowledge. For Collins DNA is, by its very complexity, the language of God, not proof of atheism. Evolution by natural selection is for Collins a hypothesis which constantly requires testing but which, in his view, provides the underlying theory for the explanation of the development of today's human beings. In that respect he probably under-estimates the philosophical nature of Darwin's theory.
Collins dismisses Young Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design as explanations for the development of life on earth. He recognises both were inspired in part by the atheistic message of evolutionary biologists, such as Dawkins, whom he regards as misguided in believing there is no teleological purpose to the universe. He concludes that science does not demand atheism. "If God is outside nature, then science can neither prove nor disprove His existence" and concludes, "Atheism itself must....be considered a form of blind faith, in that it adopts a belief system that cannot be defended on the basis of pure reason." Evolution is an insufficient premise on which to reject either God or science.
Collins does not see the conflict as one of religion and science but one of humankind's attempt to bully their fellow creatures into intellectual submission. That was true when religion was politically powerful (and in places where it still is) and it is equally true where materialism (and science) reigns unchecked. Worldviews by their nature tend to be exclusive. Collins shows they can exist in harmony. Regrettably many people appear unwilling to acknowledge the possibility that their view may be incorrect. An enjoyable book, unlikely to convince many people, but a welcome antidote to the strident atheism of Dawkins.
on 4 June 2014
An excellently written book by a hugely qualified author that shows that Science vs Religion isn't the real choice.
Young Earth Creationists got to me in my early teens, causing years of doubt. I wish that eminent scientists with genuine beliefs would step up to the debate more, as Francis Collins has.
This book puts forward the centre ground which I suspect is held by most believing scientists. It's well worth a read whether you're an atheist or a believer.
Having a real scientist in a relevant field (director of the human genome project) explain why he converted from atheism & how science lead him to God is hugely refreshing.
on 25 October 2013
Francis Collins is the distinguished physician and geneticist who was the director of the Human Genome project. The Human Genome research was a 'complex multidisciplinary scientific enterprise directed at mapping and sequencing all of the human DNA, and determining aspects of its function'.
Collins writes eloquently about the implications of the findings for the human race. The human genome 'consists of all the DNA of our species, the hereditary code for life' - 3 billion letters long and written in four letter code.
Collins boldly addresses the issue of conflict between scientific observations and religious claims. As a dedicated Christian, who faced his own personal challenges to his Christian faith with the rape of his own daughter, he emerges as a strong advocate for the creation of the universe by a personal God.
Colin echoes the common understanding that 'the awareness of right and wrong, along with the development of language, awareness of self, and the ability to imagine the future' makes the human race stand out as unique among all of God's creation - created in His image.
Collins takes us through a quick review of the prevailing worldviews - Atheism, Agnosticism, Creationism, Intelligent design and the less well known Biologos.
In his view, Biologos is the most satisfactory explanation for human existence. This may not sit well with all Christians, and he leaves many questions unanswered.
Biologos, as defined by Collins, is science and faith working in harmony.
In summary, it posits that 'God chose the elegant mechanism of evolution to create microbes, plants, and animals of all sorts. Most remarkably, God intentionally chose the same mechanism to give rise to special creatures who would have intelligence, a knowledge of right and wrong, free will, and a desire to seek fellowship with him'.
Biologos shares the same definition as theistic evolution and is simply a rebranding of it.
Theistic evolution is a view not embraced by all Christian apologists. Theistic evolution maintains that once evolution got going, no supernatural intervention was required for human kind to evolve. Yet it leaves the question of how life started in the first place unanswered. If God started life then why do we question direct creation of mankind in his image?
Even, if like me, you disagree with Collins conclusions, you cannot but marvel at the intricate nature of life and wonder why anyone could believe that we are all a result of some random accident.
This book is an excellent read but not for the faint hearted.
on 27 March 2011
Dr Francis Collins is one of the worlds leading scientists, heading up the Human Genome Project's successful sequencing of human DNA, arguably one of the greatest scientific and human achievements in recent times. This book is a kind of autobiography, tracing both his journey into medicine and genetics, and from Atheism to Christianity, as well as the issues of science and faith that came up in the process.
Despite the subtitle, this is not really a book of apologetics per se, but rather the evidence he presents is in the context of explaining his own journey rather than trying to convince anyone else. He seems to spend more time arguing for evolution than strictly for the Christian faith. If one is looking for apologetics, this is not the right book (as many of the arguments referenced are quoted from C.S Lewis, go for Lewis instead, ), but it is an excellent discussion on the interaction of science and faith.
The strength of this book is pointing out the error of the common idea that science and faith are in competition, and in particular the issue of evolution and how that relates to Christian belief. Collins critiques both Young Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design, and offers a kind of theistic evolution which he calls 'Biologos'. The other major strength is the exploration of DNA, with a section which serves as 'DNA for Dummies', and from which he looks at how this human building 'code' points to a creator. At the heart of Collins' conviction is contemplation of what Kant called 'the starry heavens without and the Moral Law within'.
This book is probably not going to do much in the way of persuading anyone of God's existence, but it does show how faith does not require one to check their intelligence at the door, and that scientific exploration leads to bigger questions that science in unequipped to answer. Collins does a good job of showing that science and faith are far from being in conflict.
Overall I felt that he was trying to cover too much ground with one book. I would like to see several of the issues expanded; for example, the appendix on medical ethics only scratches the surface of the issue, and Collins could presumably write a whole book on what he calls 'Biologos'. Never-the-less, it was enjoyable and an insightful look into the mind of one the world's top scientists.
on 3 January 2011
The book certainly has some very valuable content, but the book is too lengthy, full of history and the points aren't strongly presented. For ex, I would expect some convincing statistical probability analysis of human DNA having the right stuff without an intelligent designer in action. It wasn't presented clearly. Almost all the defense against atheists were quite weak and wasn't well backed with convincing logic and mathematical backing.
This is such a good book in terms of original content that I would highly encourage the author to consider publishing a new edition where the content is much streamlined, the book is shrinked down to at least 50% of the volume and each and every point made in support of a supernatural creator backed by statistical analysis and convincing philosophical logics. I believe someone with mathematics background and philosophy background should edit this book along with the author. This book can easily become the most valuable book to defend against atheists and agnostics.
on 26 October 2013
This was well presented and accessible to the layman. I'm not trained in the sciences, but in Theology and pastoral theology, but I could follow his logical thinking happily. It still requires one to think hard, and I would expect a book of this sort to be able to show grace to those whose views he cannot follow. A great read; Thank you