And God Said: A Review of "The Language of Science and Faith"

There is no certainty, apart from faith, as to whether man was created by a good God, an evil demon, or just by chance . . . ~ Pascal, Pensées

Books written to defuse hostility or bridge two warring camps rarely do much more than provide fodder for further dispute. Entrenchment and open-mindedness do not often speak the same language. The purported conflict between science and religion, particularly over evolution, is the poster child for such discord. The "survival of the fittest" in the unfolding debate usually headlines the antagonists, "red in tooth and claw"—White and Draper, Dawkins and Wilson, Ham and Morris, Dembski and Behe, among others—rather than the peacemakers.

The Language of Science and Faith may buck that literary trend. In it, Karl Giberson and Francis Collins initiate an open, accessible, and sensitive dialogue about the troubling issues that foster animosity between some Christians and some scientists. Each author has impeccable scientific credentials, which brings an authenticity to their answers that demands respect. They are also both deeply genuine Christians whose faith drives them to ask the hard questions about the nature of the world in which we live.

The Language of Science and Faith draws together the torrent of Frequently Asked Questions generated by Collins' 2007 bestseller The Language of Godand addresses the concerns expressed in them. (These questions also kindled the idea of creating a website devoted to the dialogue of science and faith. The BioLogos Forum is the result of that vision.) Giberson and Collins recognize that many of the questions posed by readers of the earlier book come out of a lingering fear of a zero-sum equation in which if one version of creation is true, the other is necessarily false. Giberson and Collins seek harmony and honesty in their answers, all the while pointing out the problems that other models—Youth Earth Creationism, Old Earth Creationism, and Intelligent Design—pose to the scientific community.

Many of these models also pose deeply problematic issues for Christian faith. For example, the Young Earth creationist argument seeks to explain away fossil evidence, radiometric dating, and the cosmological ramifications of the speed of light by positing God's ability to create a world that looks older than it is. While the authors do not dispute God's power, they do question the ramifications of this argument to our understanding of God's character. Do we really want to believe that God has indulged in some "grand deception"? (53-68) The authors point instead toward a vibrant theistic evolution, "a holistic explanatory scheme" that synchronizes evolution as the very real explanation of how the world came to be as it is and faith as the very real understanding of God's pervasive engagement with the world.

The book is organized around categories of questions, from the status of evolutionary theory in the premier scientific community (nearly universal), to age-of-the-earth debates (4.5 billion years), to Darwinism (both macro- and microevolution), to Gould's NOMA and its inadequacies, to dinosaurs, death, and the anthropic principle. One chapter is devoted to biblical issues ("Can Scientific and Scriptural Truth Be Reconciled?"), and while the hermeneutical explanations may be the least satisfying part of the book, their foundational comments about genre and context are clearly critical to the larger argument.

Giberson and Collins make numerous references to John Polkinghorne's work, which, though "the world's leading scholar of the science-religion interface" (107) he may be, leads them into some difficult waters. In citing Polkinghorne—who speaks of the Universe "as it explores its own inherent potential through its evolving process" (116)—they move close to a language of agency in the creative order that may cause discomfort in some readers. Nevertheless, they are forthright about their own agenda: to discern God's involvement with the world in and through the laws of nature.

This involvement, they recognize, will be more difficult for Christians who hold to a strong Calvinist theological position (138). While the authors have no difficulty aligning their beliefs in a transcendent and omnipotent God with the natural development of a long, slow process, others see in evolution challenges to divine power and purpose. Giberson and Collins also recognize that some of the theological trauma of the religion/science debate is caused not by real challenges to real orthodoxy, but by 20th-century apologetics that have used discredited or disputed science, rather than faith, as "foundations for belief in God" (142).

4/1/2011 4:00:00 AM
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