The Language of God 2

This series is from RJS and she is an expert in this topic and way beyond what I could do.
We continue today with a series of posts looking at the book The Language of God by Francis S. Collins, Director, National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), National Institutes of Health (NIH). The first section of this book is autobiographical. Dr. Collins tells the story of his journey to faith – how he found God (or God found him) and how he reconciles the various attacks on faith with his belief.

As we consider his story it will be useful to consider several questions: On what do you base your faith or lack of faith? Which arguments are convincing? Which are unconvincing? Why?
Dr. Collins came to faith as a medical student when confronted by the simple faith of patients in the face of pain and suffering and by his inability to defend his atheism. But first a little history… Dr. Collins was raised in a home where religion was unimportant and intellectual investigation was encouraged. He received a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from the University of Virginia and a Ph.D. from Yale University with a dissertation in physical chemistry, specifically in theoretical quantum mechanics. For some completely unfathomable reason his usual perspicacity and creativity deserted him at this point in his life and he failed to see the true beauty and excitement of this area of research and teaching (see p. 17 for his view); he became enthralled by biology and medicine; and after finishing his Ph.D. entered medical school at the University of North Carolina. There begins the rest of the story.
Confronted by his inability to defend his atheism Dr. Collins began to investigate the rational basis for faith, certain that the result “would deny the merits of belief, and reaffirm my atheism.” Directed to the writings of C. S. Lewis, beginning with Mere Christianity, things began to unravel. In his own words: I had started this journey of intellectual exploration to confirm my atheism. That now lay in ruins as the argument from the Moral Law (and many other issues) forced me to admit the plausibility of the God hypothesis. Agnosticism, which had seemed like a safe second-place haven now loomed like the great cop-out it often is. Faith in God now seemed more rational than disbelief. (p. 30)
In these two short chapters (44 pages) Dr. Collins proceeds to deal with several of the philosophical objections to the faith – such as evolutionary explanations (rationalizations) for the moral law; the idea of God as wish fulfillment; the harm done in the name of religion; why a loving God would allow pain and suffering; and the rationality of a belief in miracles. Each of these topics is worth a book and a post of its own of course, and in the end Dr. Collins’ treatment of each of these is necessarily cursory. Nonetheless the picture remaining is one of an intelligent, creative, rational, thinker, who after considering all of the options finds faith in God and the Christian story to be the most reasonable worldview.
What role does a personal story of conversion like this play in your understanding of the relationship of faith and science?

  • http://www.christian.luiscorreia.com/the-language-of-god-2/ Anonymous

    The Language of God 2

    [...] FESTIVAL INTERNACIONAL DE CINE EN GUADALAJARA :: XXIII EDICION wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerpt This series is from RJS and she is an expert in this topic and way beyond what I could do. We continue today with a series of posts looking at the book The Language of God by Francis S. Collins, Director, National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), National Institutes of Health (NIH). The first section of this book is autobiographical. Dr. Collins tells the story of his journey to faith – how he found God (or God found him) and how he reconciles the various attacks on faith with his bel [...]

  • http://evanevodialogue.blogspot.com/ Steve Martin

    Hi RJS,
    I think it is important to note that coming to faith in Christ is never simply an intellectual exercise. As much as I liked Collins book, I think the subtitle “A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief” was not necessarily appropriate – it gives the impression that one can rationalize oneself into the Christian faith. We can talk about the coherence of the scientific evidence & the historical Christian faith, but should not claim the scientific evidence leads irrefutably towards Christianity. Collins needed to work through the philosophical stuff but what made him look hard in the first place was the powerful faith of dying Christian he met in a hospital. Personal stories of faith & conversion (and sometimes the unspoken stories of how we as Christians live) are always more important than intellectual arguments.
    For those of us that grew up in conservative Evangelical environments where evolution was equivalent to atheism, reconciling our faith & the (increasing clear) scientific evidence for biological evolution can be potentially faith shattering. It is hugely important to have Evangelicals like Collins tell their personal stories of the reconciliation of science and their faith. (And it doesn’t hurt that he has such a high profile :-) ). I think Collins’ testimony is & will be instrumental is helping others reach this same reconciliation. In a society that is becoming increasingly secular, Collins story will connect often. However, for me, Daryl Falk’s “Coming to Peace with Science” was much more powerful. He grew up in a conservative Evangelical home. The science both fascinated and terrified him. How he worked through this was very helpful for me personally.

  • http://bobbyorr.wordpress.com MatthewS

    “For some completely unfathomable reason his usual perspicacity and creativity deserted him at this point in his life and he failed to see the true beauty and excitement of this area of research and teaching”
    LOL

  • http://goodwordediting.com Mark Goodyear

    When Francis Collins tells his personal story of conversion, it is almost like he sets his conversion outside the realm of scientific inquiry. It is his “personal” story, not necessarily some truth to be handed down for everyone.
    For me, that is one of the most interesting things Collins does. He comes on strong as a deist, but beyond that he leaves the rhetoric pretty wide open. Even at the end when he discusses Christianity in particular, he is very careful not to alienate non-Christian readers.

  • RJS

    Steve,
    I agree that the subtitle to Dr. Collins’ book is something of a poor choice.
    I have not read Dr. Falk’s book – but perhaps I should. To be honest – I lived it or something similar, so to speak, before he wrote it, so it doesn’t strike me as deeply as it may some others here.
    Before delving deeper into the issues of science and faith I think it is useful to think about why we believe. What arguments do we find convincing or unconvincing? I suspect that the answers will be different – we are not cookie cutter Christians and God can speak to and reach each of us through somewhat different paths.
    Moral Law is not as convincing to me as it is to Dr. Collins – more convincing to me are issues of meaning and purpose and cognition. But the most important factor? The reality of the kingdom – God’s truth – lived out in the lives of some of those who have crossed my path, family, friends, mentors, and others.

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    RJS,
    I found out a little about the person behind the initials :) If and when you come to the Grand Rapids, MI area, let me know. Julie and I would enjoy meeting you and conversing over a good cup of coffee.
    What came to my mind as I read your post was Acts 1:8 and the term “witnesses”. We in the evangelical camp have turned witness into “teller of all things Gospel.” I believe witness is the “story” we have about meeting God through Jesus. “Witness” is a life lived in the kingdom as you mention at the end…”The reality of the kingdom – God’s truth – lived out in the lives of some of those close to me, family, friends, and mentors.”
    Good stuff. Wild question–what do you think of Michael Crichton’s NEXT novel?

  • RJS

    John,
    You bring up a good point – intentionally or not. I comment using initials for a variety of reasons – but not for total anonymity. There are more than a few who regularly browse this blog (including the pastor and associate pastor of the church I attend) who know who I am. I also have an e-mail address that I’ve posted a few times in comments (rjs4mail at aol dot com).

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    RJS,
    Thanks for the explanation.
    The invitation to coffee (or whatever) stands. :)
    What about Crichton’s NEXT? I was fascinated.
    John

  • Rick

    RJS #5-
    You wrote: “What arguments do we find convincing or unconvincing? I suspect that the answers will be different – we are not cookie cutter Christians and God can speak to and reach each of us through somewhat different paths.”
    Amen.

  • tscott

    We are not cookie cutter people…it is so human to try to get others to look like us, act like us, be like us… to honker down and conform…to be different is hated(note the Jews in the cultures where they were scattered)
    Have always felt the main theme of Babel was redemptive…the scattering was to provide opportunity for new creations…”God can speak to and reach each of us differently”…as a science teacher for 32 years I experienced dogmatic approaches both in the scientific and faith communities…the scientific method does not exclude any question, nor should doubt lead us to believe God is not working in a person’s life.

  • http://bobbyorr.wordpress.com MatthewS

    I think people are affected by others’ stories, now more than ever. The downside of the relativism of the day is that people say, “Well that works for you but it doesn’t work for me.” However, the upside is that they are willing to acknowledge that in fact, it does work for the storyteller, in this case Dr. Collins. I think that fact is likely to have meaning for some people who otherwise poo-poo religion.
    Side note: I notice that Scientific American magazine is not happy with Dr. Collins’ theology on the amazon page for the book.

  • RJS

    John,
    I’ll take you up on it if/when I get to Grand Rapids.
    I have heard about Crichton’s book, but I have not read it. It looks interesting (and unlike Scot, I do read fiction for fun).

  • VanSkaamper

    What role does a personal story of conversion like this play in your understanding of the relationship of faith and science?
    It reinforces the point that science can neither describe nor discover all that is real and true.

  • http://rhymeswithplague.blogspot.com Bob Brague

    Re tscott, #11 — On the lighter side, I think you meant “hunker” and not “honker,” which reminded me of the two Canada geese that flew over my yard this morning when I was walking my dog, Jethro! :) They were also speaking “the language of God,” but neither Jethro nor I understood the message.
    Which brings me to Babel. I believe God did use the scattering in His redemptive purposes (Rom 8:28), but the immediate reason for the scattering was not to provide opportunity for new creations, it was to prevent a unified humankind from achieving anything it set its collective minds to do, which apparently God thinks is not a “good thing.”
    Makes you think twice about such things as the United Nations and the internet, and whether they might actually be Towers of Babel in our own generation.

  • http://rhymeswithplague.blogspot.com Bob Brague

    Excuse me, I mean #10.

  • tscott

    hunker is the northern translation

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    It is very, very helpful, I think, and very important, for serious scientists to present this kind of personal testimony. It helps everyone, including those of us who are wrestling with how to understand our faith in relation to contemporary science, see that there need not be hostility between faith and science — even if we don’t all come out exactly on the same page concerning how to work things out. It also helps us focus on the truth that faith in Christ is first and most of all a relationship with a person, which can be vibrant even if all of our ideas about what that means aren’t yet fully worked out.

  • http://rhymeswithplague.blogspot.com Bob Brague

    But I’m in Georgia, and those UGS Dawgs “hunker down”….

  • RJS

    dopderbeck,
    I also think that such stories are important – including those by others such as Dr. Falk mentioned above, Dr. Henry Schaefer, Dr. Owen Gingrich, Dr. Kenneth Miller, Dr. William Phillips (who includes in his Nobel Prize autobiography: In 1979, shortly after Jane and I moved to Gaithersburg, we joined Fairhaven United Methodist Church. We had not been regular church-goers during our years at MIT, but Ed and Jean Williams invited us to Fairhaven and there we found a congregation whose ethnic and racial diversity offered an irresistible richness of worship experience. Later that year, our first daughter, Catherine, now known as Caitlin, was born. In 1981 Christine was born. Our children have been an unending source of blessing, adventure and challenge. Their arrival, at a time when both Jane and I were trying to establish ourselves in new jobs, required a delicate balancing of work, home, and church life. Somehow, our faith and our youthful energy got us through that period. http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1997/phillips-autobio.html )
    It is no coincidence that Dr. Phillips provides a blurb for Dr. Collins’ book.

  • http://myeverydaysuperhero.blogspot.com Chris Morton

    RJS,
    Thanks for covering this VERY important book. In a day when so many choices of Christians have alienated scientists and intellectuals, Collins book provides a powerful combination of personal story and high level science, that shows thinking people how they can have faith.
    Looking forward to this discussion!
    Thanks,
    Chris

  • Simon Fowler

    Thanks for this series RJS. I always find your comments on Jesus Creed challenging and encouraging.
    I think the “personal story” is very important in the context of the relationship between science and faith because a search for the truth of life must ultimately explain the life we experience (including hunger, regret, charlie horse, hope, diabetes, injustice etc.), as people with a story, not just simply behaving bipedal things that live then die.
    The purely scientific approach, however, often seems to explain life away rather than explain it. I’m not sure if Collins’ book better explains the whole of life, I’ve not read it. But I’d be interested to hear the ‘testimony’ of Richard Dawkins, for example, as to how the story of his life and relationships, his hopes and dreams, his moral decisions, are determined by his strict scientism. Once you put two ‘personal whole life’ explanations side by side from a scientist/atheist and a scientist/believer then I think we’re into a richer discussion.
    Does anyone know anywhere where Dawkins or Dennett(for example) has shown how his scientific approach (excluding any Judeo-Christian moral framework) informs or determines how he treats his family, or the poor, for example? Not just a general explanation of why he might treat them well or poorly, but an explanation of why and how he will treat them.
    Simon

  • http://www.whiterose4jon.net Mike Mangold

    Simom (#21): beautifully put.
    The scientific explanation doesn’t stop at behaviors of “bipedal things” but is further and further reduced to tubes with things that go in and then out and eventually to just genes that “strive” after their own immortality even though “striving” is an anthropomorphic explanation.
    I am, however, going to give Dr. Collins a chance: it is EXTREMELY hard for a scientist to engage Evangelicals in any type of meaningful scientific discussion. I know: I’ve had to deal with people who believe “science” means proving that the Ark can truly float and that a “scientist” is anyone who can buy a fake degree and then convince audiences that plastic dinosaur and cavemen figurines represent reality.


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