The Believer-Scientist (Part 1)

Book #2: The Language of God by Francis Collins

The last book I reviewed for this blog espoused the glories of evolutionary biology and alluded to how it might render the religious perspective on the nature and origins of life unnecessary and undesirable.

And now for something completely different.

The Language of God takes the perspective that religion and science need not be at odds because they are trying to answer different questions. Collins, who terms himself a “believer-scientist,” was the head of the Human Genome Project, mapping out the genetic code that makes us who we are at the most basic level. This perspective certainly gives Collins a unique lens on creation, as he has become familiar with the language that made humanity. As an evangelical Christian scientist, Collins termed this code ‘the language of God.’

I say that Collins is an evangelical Christian; by his own admission in the book, that is true.  This does not, however, devalue his perspective on religion and science. My more liberal readers need not fear that Collins is a Young Earth Creationist or even an advocate of Intelligent Design theory. In fact, he does as thorough a job debunking those as he does atheism and agnosticism. Collins takes a stance that he calls “theistic evolution” or “BioLogos,” in which he basically argued that God established the creation mechanisms for the world and knew what the end result would be, but allowed the creation to be an ongoing process through evolution.

I find myself drawn to this sort of conclusion, which seems to be a solid middle ground between faith and science, but as I read I also found myself perturbed by Collins’s approach to theology. He emphasizes the existence of a Moral Law as a reason for believing in God, and certainly overuses C.S. Lewis quotes to make his theological points. You’d think that Mere Christianity was a book of the Bible from reading the way Collins writes about its author.

(Side note: I also strongly disagreed with Collins’s characterization of the Gospels as eyewitness accounts of Jesus’s life. The Gospel of Mark, which was the earliest, was published around 66 C.E., at least 30 years after Jesus died. Highly unlikely that any of them were actually there for the events of Jesus’s life. This is a nit-picking disagreement, but one which matters to me.)

My issue is not with C.S. Lewis himself entirely; his is clear thinking and writing that contributed powerfully to Christian thought. And I certainly understand that he was influential on the faith process of Francis Collins. I do, however, think that Lewis (and by extension, Collins) create false dichotomies at times– such as the idea that Jesus could not possibly be *just* a good human teacher; he must either be what he claimed, the Son of God, or crazy, or a liar.

Both Lewis and Collins also strongly imply (or state outright) that the existence of morality demands the existence of a God. This is an issue that I am looking forward to reading more about, because my thinking to date suggests that while morality is an argument for the existence of God, God need not necessarily be the origin of morality. At any rate, it’s a thought-provoking question that I look forward to pursuing more.

The Language of God by Francis Collins is worth reading, but I have to admit that I didn’t like it quite as much as I expected. I agreed with his portrait of theistic evolution and the opportunities it gave for reconciling science and faith, but was largely unpersuaded– and sometimes was disappointed– by his theology. As I learned early in my academic writing career, overemphasis on one source weakens an argument, and the way Collins overused C.S. Lewis quotes was greatly disappointing. Perhaps once again we have a classic case of the brilliant scientist who makes a sub-par theologian.