I recently read Francis Collins's book "The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief
", loaned to me by my father-in-law, who gave it to me with a faint look of disgust (I was a little surprised, as he's busy with his Masters in Theology).
Anyway, I gave it a nice thorough read.
Francis Collins is a geneticist and leader of the Human Genome Project, once an atheist and now an evangelical Christian. As a renowned scientist and Christian, this book is an attempt to provide some scientific reason for belief in God, and to show that religion and science can co-exist.
He starts off by describing his journey from agnosticism to Christianity, invoking a "Moral Law" (in other words, that people "know" what's right and what isn't), then going on to explain that everyone has a longing for God, and that essentially those two constitute a proof for the existence of God.
He then heads off into genetics and DNA, and gives a reasonably nice introduction to it all, and essentially backs up modern evolutionary science as being God's way of doing things. He provides a really good smackdown on Creationism and Intelligent Design, basically saying that they're either ignoring reality, or using the "God of the Gaps" argument (and provides extensive proof of this). He makes pleas for Creationists not to ignore the science.
Finally, he invents his own synthesis of Faith and Science which he calls "BioLogos", essentially theistic evolution. As an appendix, he deals with some bioethics issues, like stem cells and genetic testing, but sadly ignores many other issues dealing with science and faith.Criticisms
Some of the criticisms I have of the book and Collins's arguments are:
- For religious viewpoints, he relies heavily on quotes from Christian writer CS Lewis, and pays little attention to more learned philosophers, such as Plato, Maimonides, and St Augustine, and I'm not sure how valid CS Lewis's reasoning is.
- While he talks extensively about faith and science, and so on, he's not talking about religious faith in a generic sense, he is talking specifically about the Judeo-Christian God, not about others; nowhere does he justify why he thinks God is fine, but Zeus, Ra or Odin are not.
- He spends a lot of time talking about what he calls the "Moral Law", essentially saying that it's God-given because it doesn't exist in other animals and can't explain how it could have come about any other way. Unfortunately, his description of the "Moral Law" leaves a few gaps, and I think his reasoning there is faulty. For example, take a look at Solon's Ten Commandments, which rely on the Golden Rule, and were discussed long before Christianity. Also, I stumbled across a new article today in the New York Times by world-respected cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, The Moral Instinct, and that provides a much nicer description and basis for the moral instinct in humans (and other primates); given Pinker's credentials, I think it's far more authoritative too.
- Collins's "Longing for God" as a basis for belief is dubious too; for example, he states that all human cultures have created gods, and that this "longing for God" is therefore a hole in the human soul that must be filled, and therefore God must exist. Again, he doesn't detail why longing for gods in general should extend to a specifically Judeo-Christian God, and he ignores the fact that many cultures have ancestor-worship rather than gods.
All in all, as a proof for God, I think the book was rather weak. On the plus side, it did provide a very strong argument against Creationism and Intelligent design, which I'm sure the Intelligent Design advocates like Answers in Genesis
and the Discovery Institute
will not appreciate.