Amazon Customer Review – Positive
- Dr. Francis S. Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, is one of the world's leading scientists, working at the cutting edge of the study of DNA, the code of life. Yet he is also a man of unshakable faith in God. How does he reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable? In The Language Of God he explains his own journey from atheism to faith, and then takes the reader on a stunning tour of modern science to show that physics, chemistry and biology -- indeed, reason itself -- are not incompatible with belief. His book is essential reading for anyone who wonders about the deepest questions of all: why are we here? How did we get here? And what does life mean?
- Francis S. Collins is one of the USA's leading geneticists, and long-time leader of the Human Genome Project. Born and raised on a ninety-five-acre farm with no indoor plumbing, Collins grew up an agnostic, then became a committed atheist while getting his Ph.D. in chemistry. It wasn't until he attended medical school and witnessed the true power of religious faith among his patients that his worldview began to change. As a medical geneticist at the University of Michigan, he helped discover the genetic misspellings that cause cystic fibrosis, neurofibromatosis, and Huntington's disease. As head of the highly successful Human Genome Project, he has coordinated the work of thousands of geneticists in six countries. In his spare time, he plays guitar, rides a motorcycle, and writes new lyrics to familiar tunes to entertain his colleagues.
- "What an elegantly written book ... A real godsend for those with questioning minds but who are also attracted to things spiritual"
… Desmond Tutu
- "To balance formidable standard-bearers like [Richard] Dawkins, we seek those who possess religious conviction but also scientific achievements to credibly argue the widespread hope that science and God are in harmony — that, indeed, science is of God... Foremost of those arguing for common ground is Francis Collins"
… Time magazine
- "Although Collins' purpose is grand, his manner is modest and his prose clear, as befits a man more concerned with sharing his views on the nature of things than with displaying his ego"
… Washington Post
- "The Language of God is a powerful confession of belief from one of the world's leading scientists. Refuting the tired stereotypes of hostility between science and religion, Francis Collins challenges his readers to find a unity of knowledge that encompasses both faith and reason. Faith, as he demonstrates, is not the enemy of scientific rationality, but its perfect complement. This powerful and personal testament from the Director of the Human Genome Project will surprise some, delight others, and will make a lasting contribution to the great culture of human understanding."
… Kenneth Miller, Brown University, author of Finding Darwin’s God
- "Francis S. Collins proves that there is a place for apologetics. He presents, in a surprisingly easy-to-read manner, scientific validation for a worldview in which God is not only present, but actively at work."
… Tony Campolo, Eastern University, author of Speaking My Mind: The Radical Evangelical Prophet Tackles the Tough Issues Christians Are Afraid to Face
- "Francis Collins has written an extraordinary personal testimony about the compatibility of God and science. His explanation of DNA as God's instruction book is persuasive. His explanation of his personal faith is compelling reading."
… Newt Gingrich
- "Timely and incisive. Collins shows how our understanding of evolution1, far from standing in the way of faith, reveals a universe of ever greater ingenuity and subtlety."
… Paul Davies, author of "Davies (Paul C.W.) - The Fifth Miracle: Search for the Origins of Life"
- "Dr. Collins, the leader of one of history's greatest scientific achievements, is also a man of profound faith. In this superb book, he shares his deeply moving journey from militant atheism to a spiritual worldview, with a strong belief in the Creator. How he reconciles his faith with the discoveries of his science — told here with startling simplicity and clarity — is deeply inspiring. He brings reason and reconciliation to several issues that currently divide our culture. I could not put the book down."
… Dr. Armand Nicholi, author of The Question of God
- "A remarkable book, in which one of the world's leading geneticists shares his passionate love of science and his story of personal faith. Compelling reading for anyone reflecting on the relation of science and faith."
… Alister E. McGrath, author of Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes and the Meaning of Life
- "Dr. Francis S. Collins is making an enormous contribution toward helping people resolve their confusion over conflicts between science and faith. As a seeker after truth, Dr. Collins has discovered that faith and science are not only compatible but complementary. Dr. Collins is another 'pencil in the hand of God' to bring understanding and reconciliation in a field of conflict."
… Douglas E. Coe, Washington, D.C.
Amazon Customer Review – Negative
- 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 "Dawkins (Richard) - The God Delusion" 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 some time afterwards he was an atheist himself.
- The Language of God is part autobiography, part layman’s guide to DNA and evolution2 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 evolution3 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, evolution4 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 evolution5 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.
- A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, is the sub-title of this book. My review will assess this claim. Collins presents two types of evidence. He tells us there are features of our world that need a supernatural explanation, and he believes the universal longing for God means God must exist.
- There are features of our world that need a supernatural explanation. Collins describes a puzzle. Science cannot explain human morality, he thinks, nor the origin of the universe, nor the many coincidences that make the universe suitable for life. He has a solution to this puzzle. He proposes the hypothesis that an invisible being outside of space and time is responsible. Now, he supplies not one speck of evidence to support his claim. His hypothesis contains no process, no detail, no explanation. The analysis goes little further than, "It's supernatural and it just happened." The hypothesis relies entirely on the idea that there are remarkable things which we can't explain so a supernatural being must be responsible.
- Which, of course, raises a question, who or what could create a being so extraordinary it could create a universe, life and human morality? God's god?
- This we-don't-know-so God-must-be-responsible reasoning can be easily dismissed. Here's a writer who manages a particularly good job:
"Various cultures have traditionally tried to ascribe to God various natural phenomena that the science of the day had been unable to sort out - whether a solar eclipse or the beauty of a flower. But those theories have a dismal history. Advances in science ultimately fill those gaps, to the dismay of those who attached their faith to them."
- Quite. And the author? Collins himself. See page 193. The mystery is why he can't see that his own views on human morality, the Big Bang and the fine tuning of the universe amount to no more than what he criticises as a God of the gaps theory. He could easily have added these issues to his list after eclipses and flowers.
- Of course, his claim that, "Advances in science ultimately fill those gaps," has already proved the case with human morality. It isn't a gap. Does Collins not know of the work of Marc Hauser and the many, many others who have shown there is nothing supernatural going on here? We might not have every last detail sorted but we certainly don't need fanciful ideas about an invisible being affecting the software in our skulls to explain right and wrong and altruistic behaviour.
- His second type of evidence is even easier to demolish
- The universal longing for God. The argument here is straightforward. God must exist because the longing for him is universal. On the one hand this is another easy argument to dismiss but on the other hand cognitive scientists of religion have some interesting things to say about this type of thinking.
- So, let's dismiss this one quickly. Does longing for something mean it exists? Of course not. The human imagination has evolved to dream of all sorts of things that don't exist - Father Christmas, time travel6 and a date for me tonight with Helena Bonham-Carter to give just three examples. But do these things exist? No. (So that's another quiet evening in then.)
- But Collin's book raises bigger and more interesting questions. Why does a leading scientist - the head of the Human Genome Project, no less - fall into these elementary thinking traps? Why is he unable to apply the scientific thinking he applies in his book to the dismissal of Intelligent Design to his own, so-called, evidence? Why do so many highly intelligent, sane, sincere humans think like this? Why are the majority of our species convinced that invisible, supernatural beings exist?
- We live in exciting times when the first good answers to these questions have appeared. Cognitive scientists of religion now tell us religion is created by how our minds work. It's a way of thinking, they say. It's about the unconscious assumptions we make that we don't even know are assumptions. Collins writes, "Science is not the only way of knowing. The spiritual worldview provides another way of finding truth." This statement reveals clearly two ways of thinking. We are a generation that can now choose between the two. We either try to overcome the limitations of our ape brains through the organised curiosity of science or we give in to the unconscious thinking traps of what Pascal Boyer calls our "mental basement". We are privileged to live at a time when we have this choice.
Introduction – 1
Part One: The Chasm Between Science And Faith
- From Atheism to Belief – 117
- The War of the Worldviews – 33
Part Two: The Great Questions of Human Existence
- The Origins of the Universe – 57
- Life on Earth: Of Microbes and Man – 85
- Deciphering God's Instruction Book: The Lessons of the Human Genome – 109
Part Three: Faith in Science, Faith in God
- Genesis, Galileo, and Darwin – 145
- Option 1: Atheism and Agnosticism (When Science Trumps Faith) – 159
- Option 2: Creationism (When Faith Trumps Science) – 171
- Option 3: Intelligent Design (When Science Needs Divine Help) – 181
- Option 4: BioLogos (Science and Faith in Harmony) – 197
- Truth Seekers – 213
- Appendix: The Moral Practice Of Science and Medicine: Bioethics – 235
Notes – 273
Acknowledgments – 281
Index – 285
In-Page Footnotes ("Collins (Francis) - The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief")
Footnote 7: Notes on Chapter 1 “From Atheism to Belief”:-
- Collins mentions a few times that a reason for unbelief is wanting to be a moral free agent – “not being accountable to anyone”. But isn’t this a rather puerile understanding of morality – doing whatever your parents will let you get away with? It’s a common jibe at atheists – as though they don’t believe so they can act how they like. But if there is a natural morality, we should be subject to that – and cannot do what we like even though we are not subject to anybody other than ourselves and our own standards, or the standards we think are reasonable. No doubt the atheist will fall short, but then so does the believer. Maybe there is some wriggle-room in that there will be some things that are appealing but are proscribed in some religious code or other – mostly in the area of dietary laws or sexual ethics in the case where natural morality thinks there’s no non-prudential ethical issue at stake.
- If my memory serves, C.S. Lewis defeats schoolboy objections with no more than schoolmasterly arguments in "Lewis (C.S.) - Mere Christianity". I should re-read to check. Lewis seems to be a popular mentor for biological scientists. See "Conway Morris (Simon) - Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe", where a reviewer objects to the somewhat jejune reliance on Lewis.
- Collins’ reasons for “coming to faith” don’t seem to have much to do with the doctrines of any religion, but a conviction that the Moral Law is written in his heart and cannot be explained naturalistically. This is very feeble. He gestures at some naturalistic counter-arguments – along the lines of sociobiology ….
- He note that C.S. Lewis addresses questions he’d not even formulated. While this is fine, Lewis isn’t a profound philosopher, so it shows how little Collins had considered the questions, and therefore how unprepared he was for making any sort of “leap”. It may be that a leap of faith is eventually required, but it seems that it’s in practice usually made too early. It might be worth taking another look at Lewis’s own testimony in "Lewis (C.S.) - Surprised by Joy: The Shape of my Early Life".
Pocket Books; New edition edition (21 May 2007)
"Collins (Francis) - The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief"
Source: Collins (Francis) - The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief
Introduction (Full Text)
- On a warm summer day just six months into the new millennium, humankind crossed a bridge into a momentous new era. An announcement beamed around the world, highlighted in virtually all major newspapers, trumpeted that the first draft of the human genome, our own instruction book, had been assembled.
- The human genome consists of all the DNA of our species, the hereditary code of life. This newly revealed text was 3 billion letters long, and written in a strange and cryptographic four-letter code. Such is the amazing complexity of the information carried within each cell of the human body, that a live reading of that code at a rate of one letter per second would take thirty-one years, even if reading continued day and night. Printing these letters out in regular font size on normal bond paper and binding them all together would result in a tower the height of the Washington Monument. For the first time on that summer morning this amazing script, carrying within it all of the instructions for building a human being, was available to the world.
- As the leader of the international Human Genome Project, which had labored mightily over more than a decade to reveal this DNA sequence, I stood beside President Bill Clinton in the East Room of the White House, along with Craig Venter, the leader of a competing private sector enterprise. Prime Minister Tony Blair was connected to the event by satellite, and celebrations were occurring simultaneously in many parts of the world.
- Clinton's speech began by comparing this human sequence map to the map that Meriwether Lewis had unfolded in front of President Thomas Jefferson in that very room nearly two hundred years earlier. Clinton said, "Without a doubt, this is the most important, most wondrous map ever produced by humankind." But the part of his speech that most attracted public attention jumped from the scientific perspective to the spiritual. "Today," he said, "we are learning the language in which God created life. We are gaining ever more awe for the complexity, the beauty, and the wonder of God's most divine and sacred gift."
- Was I, a rigorously trained scientist, taken aback at such a blatantly religious reference by the leader of the free world at a moment such as this? Was I tempted to scowl or look at the floor in embarrassment? No, not at all. In fact I had worked closely with the president's speechwriter in the frantic days just prior to this announcement, and had strongly endorsed the inclusion of this paragraph. When it came time for me to add a few words of my own, I echoed this sentiment: "It's a happy day for the world. It is humbling for me, and awe-inspiring, to realize that we have caught the first glimpse of our own instruction book, previously known only to God."
- What was going on here? Why would a president and a scientist, charged with announcing a milestone in biology and medicine, feel compelled to invoke a connection with God? Aren't the scientific and spiritual worldviews antithetical, or shouldn't they at least avoid appearing in the East Room together? What were the reasons for invoking God in these two speeches? Was this poetry? Hypocrisy? A cynical attempt to curry favor from believers, or to disarm those who might criticize this study of the human genome as reducing humankind to machinery? No. Not for me. Quite the contrary, for me the experience of sequencing the human genome, and uncovering this most remarkable of all texts, was both a stunning scientific achievement and an occasion of worship.
- Many will be puzzled by these sentiments, assuming that a rigorous scientist could not also be a serious believer in a transcendent God. This book aims to dispel that notion, by arguing that belief in God can be an entirely rational choice, and that the principles of faith are, in fact, complementary with the principles of science.
- This potential synthesis of the scientific and spiritual worldviews is assumed by many in modern times to be an impossibility, rather like trying to force the two poles of a magnet together into the same spot. Despite that impression, however, many Americans seem interested in incorporating the validity of both of these worldviews into their daily lives. Recent polls confirm that 93 percent of Americans profess some form of belief in God; yet most of them also drive cars, use electricity, and pay attention to weather reports, apparently assuming that the science undergirding these phenomena is generally trustworthy.
- And what about spiritual belief amongst scientists? This is actually more prevalent than many realize. In 1916, researchers asked biologists, physicists, and mathematicians whether they believed in a God who actively communicates with humankind and to whom one may pray in expectation of receiving an answer1. About 40 percent answered in the affirmative. In 1997, the same survey was repeated verbatim — and to the surprise of the researchers, the percentage remained very nearly the same.
- So perhaps the "battle" between science and religion is not as polarized as it seems? Unfortunately, the evidence of potential harmony is often overshadowed by the high-decibel pronouncements of those who occupy the poles of the debate. Bombs are definitely being thrown from both sides. For example, essentially discrediting the spiritual beliefs of 40 percent of his colleagues as sentimental nonsense, the prominent evolutionist2 Richard Dawkins has emerged as the leading spokesperson for the point of view that a belief in evolution3 demands atheism. Among his many eye-popping statements: "Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.... Faith, being belief that isn't based on evidence, is the principal vice of any religion."
- On the other side, certain religious fundamentalists attack science as dangerous and untrustworthy, and point to a literal interpretation of sacred texts as the only reliable means of discerning scientific truth. Among this community, comments from the late Henry Morris, a leader of the creationist movement, stand out: "Evolution4's lie permeates and dominates modern thought in every field. That being the case, it follows inevitably that evolutionary5 thought is basically responsible for the lethally ominous political developments, and the chaotic moral and social disintegrations that have been accelerating everywhere.... When science and the Bible differ, science has obviously misinterpreted its data."
- This rising cacophony of antagonistic voices leaves many disheartened. Reasonable people conclude that they are forced to choose between these two unappetizing extremes, neither of which offers much comfort. Disillusioned by the stridency of both perspectives, many choose to reject both the trustworthiness of scientific conclusions and the value of organized religion, slipping instead into various forms of antiscientific thinking, shallow spirituality, or simple apathy. Others decide to accept the value of both science and spirit, but compartmentalize these parts of their spiritual and material existence to avoid any uneasiness about apparent conflicts. Along these lines, the late biologist Stephen Jay Gould advocated that science and faith should occupy separate, "non-overlapping magisteria6." But this, too, is potentially unsatisfying. It inspires internal conflict, and deprives people of the chance to embrace either science or spirit in a fully realized way.
- So here is the central question of this book: In this modem era of cosmology, evolution7, and the human genome, is there still the possibility of a richly satisfying harmony between the scientific and spiritual world-views? I answer with a resounding yes! In my view, there is no conflict in being a rigorous scientist and a person who believes in a 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 realm not possible to explore with the tools and language of science. It must be examined with the heart, the mind, and the soul — and the mind must find a way to embrace both realms.
- I will argue that these perspectives not only can coexist within one person, but can do so in a fashion that enriches and enlightens the human experience. Science is the only reliable way to understand the natural world, and its tools when properly utilized can generate profound insights into material existence. But science is powerless to answer questions8 such as
One of the strongest motivations of humankind is to seek answers to profound questions, and we need to bring all the power of both the scientific and spiritual perspectives to bear on understanding what is both seen and unseen. The goal of this book is to explore a pathway toward a sober and intellectually honest integration of these views.
- 1. "Why did the universe come into being?"
- 2. "What is the meaning of human existence?"
- 3. "What happens after we die?"
- The consideration of such weighty matters can be unsettling. Whether we call it by name or not, all of us have arrived at a certain worldview. It helps us make sense of the world around us, provides us with an ethical framework, and guides our decisions about the future. Anyone who tinkers with that worldview should not do it lightly. A book that proposes to challenge something so fundamental may inspire more uneasiness than comfort. But we humans seem to possess a deep-seated longing to find the truth, even though that longing is easily suppressed by the mundane details of daily life. Those distractions combine with a desire to avoid considering our own mortality, so that days, weeks, months, or even years can easily pass where no serious consideration is given to the eternal questions of human existence. This book is only a small antidote to that circumstance, but will perhaps provide an opportunity for self-reflection, and a desire to look deeper.
- First, I should explain how a scientist who studies genetics came to be a believer in a God who is unlimited by time and space, and who takes personal interest in human beings. Some will assume that this must have come about by rigorous religious upbringing, deeply instilled by family and culture, and thus inescapable in later life. But that's not really my story.
In-Page Footnotes ("Collins (Francis) - The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief")
Footnote 6: See "Gould (Stephen Jay) - Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life".
- This is actually rather a strong statement, as it’s perfectly possible to be a theist and deny (the possibility of) God answering prayer (on account of the immutability and perfection of his nature), or even his being interested in his creation (though the latter would be deistic).
- Click here for Note for a reading list on prayer.
Footnote 8: Of these three questions:-
- It’s doubtful that science can have much to say on the first (though some have claimed, improbably, that “the equations” might demand their own instantiation). See "Ferguson (Kitty) - The Fire in the Equations - Science, Religion & the Search for God".
- There might be a naturalistic explanation to the second – along the lines of Aristotelian flourishing. And,
- Science and philosophy might place a constraint on the latter. If bodily resurrection is incoherent, and immaterial souls lack empirical evidence for their existence, what other options are there for post-mortem survival. In fact, the scientific answer is that (like other animals) after death, we rot. Does Collins even address the question?
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