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Science & Faith: What Conflict?
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.