The Language of God

I promised readers a while back that I would post an announcement when we received the new paperback edition of Francis S. Collins’ The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. We are very happy to say that we’ve gotten it. It has a new study guide, too, making it ideal for a book club or adult study. We are very fond of it. (Click on that link above and read an interview with Dr. C done by Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly.)
Collins, you should know, is the prestigious director of the Human Genome Project at the NIH, and is one of the world’s leading scientists. As it says on the back cover, “he works at the cutting edge of the study of DNA, the code of life. Yet, he is also a man of unshakable faith in God and Scripture.”
Yes, Dr. Collins–who has given important lectures at Harvard and was an MIT commencement speaker a few years back!—is an evangelical, nurtured in the ways of orthodox faith by friends at the C.S. Lewis Institute and theologians like N.T. Wright and his pal the estimable Dr. Alister McGrath. That he speaks as easily about C.S. Lewis as he does gene sequences shows his thoughtfulness and deeply integrated perspective. The Times review noted that the book “lets non-church-goers consider spiritual questions without feeling awkward.” And that is quite a feat, I think, making it an excellent book to give away or to use in a seeker book discussion.
That the book was a New York Times bestseller and has blurbs from the likes of Desmond Tutu and Kenneth Miller and Paul Davies makes it that much more interesting. I think many of our BookNotes friends will be glad this inexpensive paperback is now available (See the blog special, below).
The book should appeal to a variety of readers. It is a science book, after all, and would obviously fit well into that catagory. If you read popular science or are trying to figure out the debates about evolution, this is a great introduction; well-written, making complex matters very understandable. (I announced the new Michael Behe book, The Edge of Evolution, a month ago. He is a brillant and important researcher but his more technical work is beyond me.) Collins writes as a world-class researcher, too, but this is a popular level book, some of it a memoir of his own journey as person of faith and cutting edge scientist.
Collins is not only a scholar with a PhD in chemistry (done when he was, as he explains, a rigorous atheist), but he has a medical degree as well. It makes sense that a friend and mentor is Dr. Armand Nicholi of Harvard Medical School (author of the great book which compares the worldviews of Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis, The Question of God.) It was when Collins was in medical school, actually, when he found Christian faith compelling and became a disciple of Christ.
Much of the book explores his take on the reasonableness of faith, and his good work in genetics and in the herculian effort to map the human genome.
(Collins and his team have done very significant work in many areas, of course, but I was especially moved to hear of his discovery of the key genetic problem that causes cystic fibrosis. I was almost moved to tears as he writes of writing a song for patients, families and activists in the CF support community. Obviously, he’s a hero in their eyes! See his bio here to see other diseases his research has helped “crack.”)
The book makes a good case for faith being reasonable, and he expresses what I take to be solid and orthodox views yet he is open, gentle, and makes it clear that he does not think that Biblically grounded faith leads to either the politics of the Christian right or the inaccuracies of the creationist movement. (Like many of our wisest church father before him, he does not think that the first three chapters of Genesis need to be taken literally.) In a few chapters he dispatches not only agnostic and atheistic assumptions, but explains his disapproval of both young earth creationism and intelligent design.
Ahhh, space here does not permit my small quibbles about his critique of ID.* Let’s just say I don’t think he presents the full case, although he makes accusations that I would imagine he could easily back up, even if he doesn’t fully do so in the text. Interestingly, secularists have noticed that his apologetic includes the argument from design in cosmology (and, cf,in the Big Bang.) He rejects such thinking, though, in biology, where ID has had the most influence. I would love to see some friendly discusion–and knowing Francis just a bit, I know it would be most cordial–between he and, say, Philip Johnson or Mike Behe.
The Language of God ends with a somewhat detailed discussion of moral medicine, the ethics of genetic engineering (stem cell research, for instance) and a call to thoughtful, balanced and reasonable approaches to bio-medicine guided by principles of stewardship, justice, care and integrity. This is the kind of man he is, the kind of science he daily practices, and he is an ideal voice for inviting skeptics into the conversation between Christian faith and modern science. As First Things said in a review of the initial hardcover, “His book may do more to promote better understanding between the worlds of faith and science than any other so far written.”
*Here is a review that was published in The American Spectator. Fascinating.

$5.00 off
regularly $15
mention this ad
$10 order form
The Language of God: A Scientist Present Evidence for Belief Francis S. Collins (Free Press) $15

7 thoughts on “The Language of God

  1. Neil,I hope you see this—sorry to delay writing. Was out doing a week long set of lectures with college students on a framework for relating faith and scholarship, integrating a Biblical worldview into their college work. The Pauline command not to be hoodwinked by pagan ideologies was one we spent some time on, although, truth be told, I didn’t get into the ID debate much.I suspect we’ve covered this ground before. I’ve asked you to be what I take to be more generous and fair, as I think you are really wrong to equate the guys from that School Board in Dover with the leaders of the ID movement, which they clearly are not. I feels like such a cheesy assult, a punch below the belt, a nearly nasty push-back since it so seriously misses the point. You and I both know they are YEC, and were trying to feebly introduce ID when they just weren’t aware on the nuances and different approaches of what it means. And they were dishonest about it too. The Discovery Institute, as you know, washed their hands of those guys.Neil, I know that you know that I know that these few fundamentalist school board directors in Dover aren’t scientists of any sort, and certainly are not spokespersons for ID. So I am very, very frustrated when you try to pull that, as if what THEY say “as a matter of record” has anything to do with the important debate about science raging among fellow Christian scientists. When I talk about ID I mostly refer to Behe, Dembski, and other real scientists and science teachers I know in the various associations of Christians in science, scholars who write in places like the Christian Scholar’s Review or Books & Culture, and who have these serious debates among various Christian scholars at faith-based universities. You know that I follow some of the philosophers of science (Woltersdorf, Pearcey, Van Til) and well-informed journalists like Johnson, Denyse O’Leary, et al. To discount my claim that these guys aren’t YEC by citing the housewives and pastors of Dover is beyond dumb, it is rude and shallow.That the ID movement needs to be clearer about where they stand vis a vie YEC is a good point. I think I agree with you on that, even, and perhaps they haven’t been loud and clear on that, although a few of them have been. I don’t know how many books they have to publish saying that until you think they’ve been loud and clear enough. But it is a fair critique, I suppose, since different writers respond to that strategy (distancing themselves from friends in the YEC movement) differently. That they can’t be doing good science if they have an agenda is an interesting claim, although it isn’t clear to me that this is true. It seems to me that everyone has an agenda. For some it is to be guided by autonomous reason, advancing a worldview that implies that human reason is adequate for proper understanding and that Rationalism guided by the scientific method alone can answer everything; that this reductionism is the Only True Way to Knowledge. I don’t worry near as much about the “agenda” of the minority voices, though, as I do of the “agenda” of the guys who set the tone, those in the accepted paradigm.Its like the very smart guys who translated the ESV because the newer translations had a feminist agenda (so they said) with their desire to have gender inclusive language. Alas, the agenda, then, of the ESV isn’t neutral, but an “anti-inclusive language” agenda. For them to imply they are agenda- free is terribly misguided, since it seems clear to me that the Bible teaches that everyone has a view…two different opinions about how to translate gender are operative. It isn’t that one is an agenda and the other isn’t. And so, I disliked your implication that the public record of the Board members of the Dover trial is an indication of the scholarship of serious ID scientists, and I disagree that only some scholars have agendas.BUT, I am glad you honor me by reading my posts, ordering books sometimes, and taking time to commnet. Even if it makes smoke spew out of my ears.Saw you cited in a national wire story about your air conditioning situation. Beth and I smiled to see you in print.There is plenty of room to discuss how to determine whose presuppositions and perspectives and resulting agenda is most true, insightful, honest or faithful. Whose right? But to rule out some as agenda-driven and others given a pass because you happen to agree with their agenda, makes meaningful debate nearly impossible.

  2. ID is to YEC as chemistry is to alchemy or as astronomy is to astrology. Each of these has its roots in its predecessor but they are distinct and separate today.YEC is an effort to interpret the facts of science in light of the Genesis record. ID is an effort to show that the physical and biological realms bear the impress of intentional manufacture. They share in common only their belief that there’s evidence that intelligence underlies the creation of the cosmos.If the book of Genesis were disproven YEC would be devastated, but ID would be unaffected. The two simply aren’t the same thing.The claim that they are is based on a fallacy called undistributed middle: Because two things hold something in common, in this case they both hold that an intelligent designer made the cosmos, the conclusion is that they’re really the same thing. This is nonsense, of course.

  3. Byron,On the ID connection to YEC, that is a matter of public record from the Kitzmiller transcripts. The people who pushed ID were, by their testimony, rather more YEC. And the fact that their textbook was to be an updated version of “Pandas” said that ID is much more anti-evolution than anything else. If ID really wanted to establish itself as science it should have said loud and clear that YEC is rubbish. But the adoption of the Panda book shows that fighting evolution (just look at Jonathan Wells Web site) means more than science. So ID is, quite correctly, lumped together with YEC. When your first priority is not science, you are not doing science in the same way that one cannot write literature when one’s first priority is to advance an agenda. The Discovery Institute exists to advance an agenda, not to advance science. ID says it is different from YEC because they accept the evolution of the cosmos and some aspects of biological evolution. But in approach they are no different from YEC. To quote a noted critic “Like all creationists, they believe that they have a startling truth that the public has been shielded from, and that if they present the facts, in quotation marks, that the scales will fall from the eyes and the charade of evolution will be revealed.” Given my view of ID, my comment about the book should be more clear. If it is not, let me know.Neil

  4. Neil,Thanks for writing. Appreciate your willingness to make comment. Two quickies: I still am not confident that it is fair or accurate to say that ID is connected to YEC; none of the ID scholars writing believe in a young Earth, so the connection seems, in my view, to be only a presupposition held by those who say they are related. How many times do the ID scholars have to say they don’t believe in something before you concede that they don’t believe in something?Why in the world, though, would you say that a book that is somewhat scholarly and detailed is only written forthose who agree with him? On what basis would you possibly think that. It could be, with equal reliability, I’d think, the exact opposition: he wrote it with such detail to reach an audience like yourself (for instance.) I’d be eager to hear your logic, but to say that because he makes a detailed case makes you wonder who is audience is strikes me as a non-sequitar. Would you say that about any other scientist who writes a book about his theories that has a similiar degree of slow detail? Why or why not?

  5. Just discovered “The Language of God” when I was hunting for a book to read during a flight. It did a wonderful job explaining in a logical, researched manner the position I have arrived at to reconcile my love of science and my faith. I have been unable to explain this so my son (a Chemisty/Phyics major) and I am hoping this book will help. I would also like to lead a study of this book in my church that I think might appeal to young adults who are trying to reconcile modern science and faith. Can you suggest any chapter-by-chapter study guides? D. M. Koebke

Comments are closed.