The Language of God: A Final Word

The Language of God, Closing Thoughts

By B.J. Marshall

Collins’ final word comprises two points: that there is joy and peace in God’s creation, and that the war between science and spirit should end. In this post, I’ll discuss these two points. I’ll conclude by giving a final word of my own as my journey of blogging through a book closes.

Collins’ first point fits perfectly well whether one holds to science or spirit or, as I’ll rephrase the dichotomy, faith and reason. I do not believe in any supernatural entities, and yet I can unequivocally say that the universe is freaking awesome! I remember having a conversation with my parents shortly after I came out as an atheist, and they questioned me as to what meaning my life had now. I told them that I had far more meaning in my life as an atheist than I did as a Christian. Knowing that this life is the only shot I have, that there is so much awesome and beauty to behold, and that there is so much suck I want to combat so my son and his generation can live all give me ample reason to get out of bed in the morning.

In fact, I am so enamored by the universe, that I find amazement in salt! I had a cold recently and used this salt/baking soda mixture as a sinus rinse. And I would find myself in awe that the elements that combined to form the salt in this little container came from stars. Billions of years ago, stars fused heavier and heavier elements before exploding. And I used some of that stellar explosion to rinse my sinuses – amazing!!

I remember being just as enamored by the idea that surrendering control to God gave one a certain sense of freedom. But now I feel an even greater sense of freedom in that my life is incredibly more purpose-driven now, because I am in the driver’s seat. I no longer feel like a pawn in some cosmic game that God plays between good and evil. If I’m going to fight against evil, it’s because I want to do it, not because I think I should do it because God would want me to. And, because I live in a society and not as an island, I don’t think it follows that acknowledging that I’m in control and responsible for my actions drives me to nihilism or hedonism.

However, in our search for joy and peace, I disagree with Collins as to a likely source of assistance. It comes in a quote from James 1:5:

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and will be given him.

I wonder how well this tactic worked for faith-healers, who watched their children die of easily curable ailments. I wonder how well that worked for parents killing their children for fear that they’re witches. Or how Christians used the Bible to advocate slavery in the U.S.; where was the wisdom in that?

Collins implores us to work together. Even if we discount the previously mentioned source of wisdom, Christians and atheists probably have more similar goals than different goals. However, it’s the thought process and methodology behind these goals that differs strongly. We both have views favoring stronger family values; many Christians want to strengthen them by fighting against homosexuality, whereas atheists want to strengthen them by fighting for equal marriage rights. We both have views supporting life, despite us having differing opinions regarding when life begins. We both want to protect our rights; Christians might think they have free speech to hang the Ten Commandments in a courtroom or say a prayer to start of a government meeting while atheists think it violates the Establishment Clause. I am reminded of Representative John Shimkus, who hoped to chair the House Energy Committee, saying that we don’t need to worry about global warming because of God’s promise to Noah. He might have the same goal as I do – taking care of our environment – but his way of attaining the goal is by punting to God to take care of us whereas mine is to take action based on conclusions I draw from the available evidence.

I think what Collins perceives as the war between science and spirit – faith or reason – is due in large part to the differing sense of what “truth” is. And as long as some viewpoints ground truth on the observations of objective reality while other viewpoints ground truth on subjective, traditional ideas that have no basis in objective reality – or are even contrary to objective reality – then I’m not sure this war will ever end. Sad face.

* * *

Well, that pretty much ends it for my journey through this book. It’s been interesting and fun. When I came out as an atheist and my parents gave me “The Case for a Creator” for my birthday, I was a fairly new atheist who needed help understanding all the drivel in that book; this site helped me a lot. I hope my effort has returned the favor.

Thank you for being with me on this journey through The Language of God. I want to extend a warm, heartfelt thanks to Ebonmuse for giving my ideas voice. I really appreciate all the time and effort he’s taken to post my series and catalogue it on his blog. I also want to thank all the readers and commenters, especially where you challenged me to think differently and more clearly. You’ve helped push me over the fence to “strong atheism,” you’ve helped me refine my ability to perceive and explain logical fallacies (especially the ones I’ve made myself, showing that I still have a lot to learn!), and you’ve encouraged me to help expand this community.

The road, including this series, hasn’t been easy. Since coming out atheist, I’ve spent a lot of time struggling with how to deal with people whose beliefs I no longer shared. I still struggle with that: I don’t necessarily think all beliefs should be tolerated, and yet I find it’s very difficult to argue over beliefs (maybe even attack beliefs) without people thinking I’m attacking them personally. I shouldn’t be surprised (but I was) when I found the same thing with myself: When my thoughts were challenged, as they were throughout this series, my first reaction was to get defensive. I was kind of amazed at how much mental energy it took to overcome (hopefully successfully) my biases to look at challenging views with an open mind to the possibility that I could learn something.

Thanks again for reading.

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.

  • http://www.ooblick.com/weblog/ arensb

    And as long as some viewpoints ground truth on the observations of objective reality while other viewpoints ground truth on subjective, traditional ideas that have no basis in objective reality – or are even contrary to objective reality – then I’m not sure this war will ever end.

    And this is an important point, IMO. Religious apologists sometimes argue that “religious” wars such as the crusades or the Holocaust are really caused by politics or greed, but that the instigators used religion as a way of selling them to the masses; or that religion and science are compatible. But the fact is that even if religion isn’t a proximate cause, it often makes things worse.

    How easy would it be for conservatives to encourage people to get out and vote against abortion rights, or gay rights, or civil rights, or the teaching of evolution, if the “God wants you to do this” argument didn’t work? And how much harder do progressives have to work to overcome this religious roadblock?

    For that matter, how much time and effort do liberal theists waste trying to reconcile science and religion? Or arguing with their coreligionists over how best to interpret scientific results in light of scripture, and vice-versa?

    Collins’s entire book seems to be an example of this: if it weren’t for his religion, he wouldn’t have felt the need to spend time and effort explaining how what he does in the lab and what he does in church are compatible. Ditto Kenneth Miller and “Finding Darwin’s God”.

  • jack

    Collins implores us to work together.

    Collins of all people should know that science is the one and only approach to truth-seeking that has made it possible for people not only to work together, but to come to agreement when and where the evidence is compelling. Religion, spirituality and superstition, by contrast, inevitably lead to idiosyncratic, untestable and mutually contradictory ideas about truth — hence the perpetual splintering of religions into antagonistic sects.

    Thanks, BJ, for slogging through this book for us all, and for your incisive commentary and analysis. Well done.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Off on a tangent, but this relates to prior discussion in this series:

    What’s in your genome?
    by Larry Moran of Sandwalk.

    Detailed, categorized list of what is known to be in the human genome, with percentages.

    The bottom line subtotals:
    Known essential stuff: 8.5%
    Known junk: 65%
    Unknown: 24.5%

    If a creationist brings up junk DNA, do not settle for some anecdote about a recent press release finding a purpose for some small chunk of DNA, demand some solid numbers.

  • http://personman.com danny

    Thanks for writing this series. The Language of God was the last book I read as a Christian. I was beginning to doubt my faith and I read this book thinking it might convince me to remain a Christian. It didn’t. And your response to the book has hit many of the problems I had with it, too. Collins rails against the unsophisticated god-of-the-gaps apologetics put forth by creationists (which had me cheering him on), but then he turns around and uses the cosmological and moral arguments, which are also god-of-the-gaps arguments. He even admits that an emotional experience is what finally prompted him to join the religion. So much for science! Here’s my review of it, written as I was changing from christian to atheist: http://personman.com/2007/05/29/book_review_the_language_of_god_by_franc

  • http://journal.nearbennett.com Rick

    Thanks for taking the time to do such a thorough review.

  • http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~edmin/Pamphlets/ Cyberguy

    “Thanks again for reading.”

    I read your posts with interest. Thanks for putting in the time and effort.

  • Rosemary

    @Larry Moran.

    Thanks for those stats. Quite fascinating.

    Now, how about some summary comparative stats about the overlap between the genomes of related species? How much of our junk DNA is shared with chimps, for example?

    @ B.J. Marshall.

    Thanks for the detailed book review and your thumbnail biographical stories. Both are interesting and useful.

    @ Adam

    This has been a successful exercise, again. How about some regular guest articles on your site, even when you are not having a well-earned break?


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