SCIENCE THE LANGUAGE OF GOD: A SCIENTIST PRESENTS EVIDENCE FOR BELIEF BY FRANCIS S. COLLINS [Free Press, 294pp., 2006]
“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind. “- Albert Einstein
IN The Language of God, Dr. Francis Collins drafts a truce between the battling armies of science and religion. As director of the Human Genome Project, Collins has worked for decades at the forefront of scientific discovery, paving the way for the emergence of revolutionary breakthroughs in human genetics. However, one quality renders Collins unlikely to be among today’s leading scientists in the eyes of many of his academic peers – his unshakeable faith.
Over the course of his career, Collins has withstood innumerable objections against the compatibility of his scientific and religious sentiments, and these attacks have questioned his ability to remain loyal to each camp while simultaneously embracing the other. In The Language of God, not only does Collins rationalize why science and faith are harmonious with each other, but he also demonstrates that each ideology is incomplete in the absence of the other. He argues that only together do science and spirituality enrich the human experience.
Collins begins his book with a description of his own journey from atheism to faith. Growing up in a family indifferent towards religion, Collins never considered the impact of his early love for science on religion. He pursued his passion for science at the University ofVirginia and Yale University. It was in these academic settings that his scienceminded peers (already under the impression that science and faith are incompatible) influenced Collins to become agnostic, and eventually an atheist. Later recognizing that his position had emerged from external influences and not his own agency, Collins sought to develop an incontestable rationale for why the notion of God’s existence is absurd. To his surprise, he came to realize that the logic for belief in a God is in fact more concrete than that against it.
Collins then presents the major challenges against the case for God’s existence, such as the presence of suffering in the world. He proceeds to discuss the fields of science that have served as battlegrounds for conflict with religion. These include the origin of the universe, emergence of life on earth and evolution. How should faith adherents approach these issues in light of religious scripture? Should religious texts be interpreted literally, in effect placing religion in direct opposition to scientific data? Or rather, should practitioners read religious texts loosely, thus allowing a peaceful coexistence of holy scriptures and scientific evidence? How have scientists and theologians in the past approached this question of interpretation? Collins draws upon the works of such prominent historical figures as Galileo, Saint Augustine, and, of course, Charles Darwin, to see what advice they have to offer.
Collins then depicts the most commonly adopted positions in the conflict between science and religion. The first is atheism – which rejects all religious belief and denies the existence of God – or agnosticism – which questions the existence of God, heaven, etc. in the absence of material proof and in unwillingness to accept supernatural revelation. A second stance is creationism, in which faith is based upon an entirely literal interpretation of sacred texts, and thus overrules scientific evidence. A third faction adopts the notion of Intelligent Design, the idea that divine intervention guides the course of natural processes such as evolution. Intelligent Design is a view held by many religious individuals, and represents a final desperate attempt to rescue religion in the face of increasing scientific evidence that seems to undermine religious beliefs at an alarming rate. Collins himself rejects these positions and instead adopts BioLogos, also known as theistic evolution, in which science and faith exist in harmony. According to this ideology, there is no supernatural intervention in evolution, but rather, in the moment of creation of the universe, God had already mapped out and determined every detail of the future. To accept theistic evolution, one must accept that God is outside of nature, space and time as perceived by humans.
Collins ends with a plea to scientists and believers to end the unnecessary hostility that has arisen between the two factions. He deems these flames easily extinguishable, if only proponents of each camp would simply open their eyes: “The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. He can be worshiped in the cathedral or in the laboratory. His creation is majestic, awesome, intricate, and beautiful – and it cannot be at war with itself. Only we imperfect humans can start such battles. And only we can end them.” (21 1) In the appendix, Collins concludes with a description of the central tensions that have arisen in bioethics, due to advancements in fertility technology and DNA analysis. This chapter is a valuable overview for readers who feel that their knowledge of these ethical issues, such as those associated with stem cell research, requires honing. Collins provides for readers an objective exhibition of these debates and describes why they have been so difficult to resolve.
Filled with academically enriching, spiritually enlightening and emotionally stirring moments, The Language of God keeps readers deeply engrossed. The book can be appreciated from various angles; it can be seen as a lesson in the history of major benchmarks in science, or as a spiritual refresher that resonates with readers from diverse traditions. Even I can attest to this, as despite my Islamic convictions, the words of this devout Christian author have been spiritually moving. The book has reminded me of the indisputable signs of God’s existence, signs that we often forget to appreciate in our busy lives. Perhaps I can call the arrival of this book into my hands a fortuitous event, although, with Collins’s reminder fresh in mind, it would be more accurate to ascribe this event to fate, to God’s longterm plans. God has already written a script for the course of history, and His cast includes planets, mountain ranges, trees, reptiles, and even human beings. However, this script is written in a text incomprehensible to us, a text we will never decrypt in our lifetimes: This is the Language of God.