The Language of God: Grandeur in Life

The Language of God, Chapter 4

By B.J. Marshall

The last part of this chapter is a brief but pretty thorough overview of DNA and how it works. He gives a short background going through genetics (Mendel and Garrod), the discovery of DNA (Avery, MacLeod, and McCarty), and the discovery of DNA’s structure (Watson and Crick). He then goes through several pages describing how DNA works.

He ends this chapter with a brief section he calls “Biological Truth and Its Consequences.” He points out how people who subscribe to the “argument from design as a compelling demonstration of God’s role in creating life” might find the content he describes in this chapter unnerving. Such an unsettled reader might protest: “Enough! Your naturalistic explanations are taking all the divine mystery out of the world!” (p.108). To this, Collins replies that there is plenty of divine mystery left, citing how “many people who have considered all the scientific and spiritual evidence still see God’s creative and guiding hand at work” (p.108). Collins concludes that evolution can and must be true, and he adds that evolution doesn’t say anything about the nature of its author. Science gives believers even more to be in awe about.

I found this concluding section problematic, despite being well-pleased with Collins’ primer on DNA. Collins’ reply to the unsettled reader left me with two questions. First, what exactly is the “spiritual evidence” that people have considered to be God’s hand at work? I’m not talking about abiogenesis, the seemingly fine-tuned universe, or even the empty tomb – those appear to me to be all physical phenomena. I’m not even sure how one would go about validating such “spiritual evidence,” or even being able to attribute it to any God rather than, say, an advanced space-faring race. Sounds to me like anyone subjecting their “spiritual evidence” to the Outsider Test for Faith would fail.

Second, I question the claim that “many people” have come to believe in God by considering the scientific and spiritual evidence. One point of contention is that we don’t know how many “many” is, and this sounds similarly dodgy like The Discovery Institute’s “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism” petition versus the humorous counter-petition from the National Center for Science Education, “Project Steve.” (Here is a very good piece comparing the two.) My other point of contention with this claim is that it’s really fallacious: An argument is no more or less true simply because “many people” believe in it. If that were the case, the earth would still be flat. Given that more than one billion people believe in Islam, maybe that means Islam is true.

I find it a bit humorous that things we don’t understand fall into a “divine mystery” category. I find myself defaulting to “natural mysteries,” but that’s only because “Every mystery / Ever solved has turned out to be / Not Magic”. There’s so much to life that we don’t understand, and I think that’s awesome. I don’t need to find fairies at the bottom of my garden to appreciate its beauty.

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Steve Bowen

    Liked this for the timely link to Tim Minchin’s storm and the opportunity to make everyone jealous. I’m leaving in the next hour to see his new live show. Yay!

  • jack

    I too loved the Tim Minchin poem.

    “many people who have considered all the scientific and spiritual evidence still see God’s creative and guiding hand at work” (p.108).

    There is, of course, another big problem with this, besides the compelling objections that BJ raised. In effect Collins is saying, “Give up on the idea of using god to fill the mystery-of-heredity gap, but hey, don’t despair! There are plenty of other gaps in our knowledge science has not yet filled. Put god into those!” He fails to comprehend that he is using the same fallacious reasoning as the creationist fundies.

    I would even go so far as to categorize what he considers “spiritual evidence” as a gap that science may one day fill. I suspect he is referring to that emotional longing for god that he called the “God-shaped vacuum” earlier in the book. Emotions and perceptions of other beings, even illusory perceptions, are products of the brain, and the brain is slowly but steadily yielding to neuroscience.